For the second consecutive year, the NBA Awards on TNT, presented by Kia, promised to be a celebration of the NBA's brightest talent and most inspiring people.
Present-day stars gathered with NBA legends to bear witness to the latest entry in basketball's record book. The show was hosted by renowned actor and comedian Anthony Anderson, who wasted no time breaking the ice with a visual reference to LeBron James' shorts suit and J.R. Smith's gaffe in Game 1 of The Finals.
Once the pleasantries were out of the way, the show moved swiftly to the award-winners, whose names waited in envelopes to be revealed.
The first awarded presented on Monday night was the highest honor for first-year players: the Kia Rookie of the Year award.
The talent and competition in this season's race was as good as it's been in years. Ben Simmons flashed all-around brilliance that reminded some of a young Magic Johnson.
Donovan Mitchell was asked to be -- and dominated as -- Utah's main scoring threat. Jayson Tatum stepped up and scored for the injury-riddled Celtics far more smoothly than anyone anticipated.
In the end, it was Simmons who took home Kia Rookie of the Year honors. The 6-foot-10 playmaker averaged 15.8 points, 8.2 assists, 8.1 rebounds and 1.7 steals per game while shooting 54.5 percent from the field.
The last rookie to put up numbers at least as proficient as those? Nobody.
"WHAT [MITCHELL AND TATUM] WERE ABLE TO ACCOMPLISH WAS GREAT. IF I PLAYED LAST YEAR, ONE OF THEM WOULD HAVE HAD IT."
-- BEN SIMMONS
"Stepping up" may be a sports cliché, but it's also an accomplishment worthy of its own recognition.
Three players did that in 2017-18. Victor Oladipo went from being traded to being an All-Star. Clint Capela showed how much late-round Draft investments matter. And Spencer Dinwiddie proved that underestimation can lead to opportunity.
Oladipo's accomplishments as the leader of a surprise playoff team proved too much to ignore. The former No. 2 overall pick followed up a disappointing 2016-17 season with a career-best one.
His 23.1 points, 5.2 rebounds, 4.3 assists and league-leading 2.4 steals per game earned him All-Star and All-NBA honors -- as well as the 2017-18 Kia Most Improved Player award.
sometimes you get to points in your life where you kind of do surprise yourself. At the end of the day I'm thankful. it's only the beginning for me and the pacers organization, so i'm looking forward to the future.
-- VICTOR OLADIPO
The big man is back. That seemed to be the message from this year's finalists for Kia Defensive Player of the Year, all of whom manned the paint for their respective teams.
Rudy Gobert cemented himself as the catalyst behind Utah's league-best defense. Anthony Davis wreaked havoc while fueling the Pelicans' playoff push. Joel Embiid put an end to "The Process" by leading Philadelphia to the playoffs.
Gobert's dominance, however, proved as overwhelming as his awards-night suit. Individually, he produced 10.7 rebounds and 2.3 blocks per game. His team impact was even more pronounced. When Gobert was on the floor, Utah boasted a 97.7 defensive rating. To put that in perspective, Golden State led the league with an overall rating of 100.5.
Simply put, the Jazz with Gobert were the NBA's best defensive team. That was undoubtedly one of the key reasons the French-born big man was voted the 2017-18 Kia Defensive Player of the Year.
It's the defense that affects the offense. I think when you're a very good defensive team... you give yourself a chance every night.
-- Rudy Gobert
When the coach goes to his bench, who can he count on? The league's best sixth men provide the answer ahead of time.
Eric Gordon is one of the game's best in-game sparks after winning the 2017 Kia Sixth Man of the Year award. His competition in 2017-18: Raptors spark plug Fred VanVleet and Clippers scoring machine Lou Williams.
After years of providing steady scoring off the bench, Williams took it to another level this year. The 13-year pro put up a career-best 22.6 points per game while nearly leading the Clippers to the playoffs.
On Monday night, Williams added the second Kia Sixth Man of the Year award to his trophy case, cementing himself as one of the best bench scorers in the league today.
I PLAY AS HARD AS I CAN AND I LIVE WITH THE RESULTS.
-- LOU WILLIAMS
A new generation of coaches is making its mark on the NBA, led by a pair of clipboard wizards. Quin Snyder turned the difficult offseason loss of All-Star Gordon Hayward into a season of growth that pushed Utah to the Western Conference semifinals.
Brad Stevens, meanwhile, continued to impress in the East. Despite injuries to new addition Hayward and All-Star guard Kyrie Irving, the Celtics reached Game 7 of the Eastern Conference finals.
It was a veteran of the coaching ranks, however, that ultimately won the 2017-18 Coach of the Year award. Dwane Casey's ability to evolve his game plan helped Toronto earn the East's best record, an achievement that grabbed everyone's attention.
Now with the Pistons, Casey is hoping to work his same magic for a similar outcome. Keeping his new trophy in his office is certainly one way to inspire his new team.
There was a time when the triple-double was unconquered and the term "free agent" didn't exist. Oscar Robertson shattered both those barriers.
That, combined with his Hall-of-Fame career and continued standard-bearing for the NBA, earned him the 2018 NBA Lifetime Achievement Award. "The Big O" represents a wave of change that helped produce the rights of NBA players enjoy today while remaining an icon of greatness from the league's early years.
sometimes in life, it is important to be persistent -- or as i've been called, stubborn. stubborn about what you believe in, in order to help others, even at great personal sacrifice.
-- OSCAR ROBERTSON
Though Kevin Durant might have switched NBA addresses in 2017, his service to the community continues to be unlimited by mere location.
The former Kia MVP and two-time NBA champion was given the NBA Cares Community Assist Award. His contributions included more than $13 million to numerous organizations with a dedicated emphasis on education, four public court refurbishments, and hours of work with the community.
Jamal Crawford is no stranger to the NBA awards scene, having won Kia Sixth Man of the Year honors three times in his career.
This year, however, the 18-year veteran was recognized for a different reason. After providing a guiding influence for a Timberwolves team that broke a 14-year playoff drought, Crawford was given the Twyman-Stokes Teammate of the Year award.
THIS AWARD GOES WITH ANY AWARD I'VE EVER WON. THIS ISN'T SOMETHING YOU'RE TRYING TO WIN. YOU'RE JUST TRYING TO DO THE RIGHT THING, HAVE YOUR TEAMMATE'S BACK.
-- JAMAL CRAWFORD
No honor captures the intersection of sports and humanity more than the Craig Sager Strong Award, which is given to a person "who has been a trailblazer while exemplifying courage, faith, compassion and grace."
Rather than a trophy, the recipient of this award dons a flamboyant jacket designed to honor the late Craig Sager, whose work in the NBA community and battle with cancer inspired millions.
The 2018 Craig Sager Award was given to Hall-of-Famer Dikembe Mutombo, whose accomplishments on the court are dwarfed only by those off of it. A native of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Mutombo used his NBA success to carve out hope and opportunity in his home country. He ensured that the nation's first hospital was built, and announced on Monday night his next goal is to erect a high school to provide education of science, technology, math and the arts.
In the world of basketball, Mutombo is most remembered for his iconic finger wag after mercilessly blocking an opposing player's shot. The fingerprint he leaves behind in the lives and hearts of those he has served, however, will leave an even longer lasting impression.
I can only hope to live up to the reputation of Craig Sager, who embodied strength, respect, and of course, great style.
-- DIKEMBE MUTOMBO
The Kia Most Valuable Player award can be an especially harsh reminder of the most basic law in sports: there can only be one.
Such was the case this year, when James Harden (best player, best team), Anthony Davis (the guy without whom his team would be nothing) and LeBron James (LeBron James) clashed for the league's ultimate individual honor.
After finishing second last year, James Harden took home the Kia Most Valuable Player award for 2017-18, and for good reason. The Rockets superstar's name littered the NBA leaderboard:
- 1st in scoring (30.4 ppg)
- 1st in 3s made (265)
- 1st in free throws made (624)
- 3rd in assists (8.8 apg)
- 7th in steals (1.8 spg)
Throw in an All-Star nod, All-NBA First Team honors and the Rockets' league-leading (and franchise-record) 65 wins, and it's hard to dispute Harden taking home the MVP.
THE LAST FOUR YEARS HAVE BEEN LIKE KNOCKING ON THE DOOR, KNOCKING ON THE DOOR. NOW THE MOMENT IS FINALLY HERE.
-- JAMES HARDEN