NBA Reveals Inexplicably Pro-Kings Awards Voter

As the NBA end-of-season awards and their corresponding vote totals were announced, I became obsessed with a strange, consistent pattern in the results. Despite finishing ninth in the Western Conference and playing as an essentially average team, Sacramento Kings players were wildly overrepresented on awards ballots. Rather, they were wildly overrepresented on awards ballot, singular.

Imagine my shock then when Defensive Player of the Year results dropped and someone had the gall to put Domantas Sabonis third on their ballot. The next day, Nikola Jokic won his third MVP, and there Sabonis was again, receiving one fourth-place vote. When the All-Defensive teams were announced, I was ready, and there it was: Sabonis got one first-team vote, as did De’Aaron Fox. Even before this mysterious voter showed their hand, I expected Sabonis to get some All-NBA votes, and maybe make the third team, which he did; I did not expect, however, anyone to choose him for their first team, which our mystery voter did. When the league revealed the Executive of the Year vote tally, there was Monte McNair with a first-place vote, received for, uh, signing Sasha Vezenkov?

I like that awards voting is not completely overrun with big-time national voices. Seven Ringer staffers and 17 ESPNers have votes, and while one of them is Kevin O’Connor, they form a cohort of people who at least truly know ball. Except for Michael Wilbon, that is, who voted Anthony Edwards second in MVP. The NBA also gives votes to writers from international outlets like France’s L’Equipe, Italy’s La Gazzetta dello Sport, and the Philippines’ Cignal, as well as local beat reporters. I thought I knew who the Kings voter was, as the Sacramento Bee‘s Jason Anderson is one of the 99 people with a ballot. Anderson isn’t one of the more sourced-up Kings reporters, though he works for (the dying, wheezing ghost of) the biggest paper in town, so naturally, I thought the homer effect would take hold. After all, the one guy who had Giannis Antetokounmpo as his MVP works for a Greek paper.

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But no! I was wrong. The mystery Kings voter is MARCA‘s Juan Ignacio García-Ochoa, who pretty much only writes about Real Madrid. García had a few other odd votes—he was the lone voter to select Anthony Edwards as his Clutch Player of the Year, and he had Bobby Portis on second-team All-Defense. MARCA covers the NBA, though García does not. (García did not respond to a request for comment.) The only connections I can think of are that Sabonis grew up in Spain, and that his dad played for Real Madrid’s basketball team in the ’90s. On the one hand, this is very funny, and none of the awards were closely contested enough to have been meaningfully derailed by one rogue voter who apparently only watches the Kings. On the other, there are real financial stakes here, with tens of millions of dollars hanging in the balance.

Ultimately, I’d rather the NBA keep giving ballots to those who cover the league for non-American outlets. The league’s player base, coaching corps, and fanbase are not uniformly American, and I would rather we end up with some funky ballots than have every person who has ever appeared on ESPN’s NBA programming decide the vote. I just wish the league could make them take their voting responsibilities more seriously, or, alternately, I wish García had truly committed to the bit and named Colby Jones as his rookie of the year.

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