HAMISH BIDWELL
The king is dead. Long live the king. Yes, after a year as reigning MVP of the Dominion Finance NBL, 0800 Easy LPG Hawks co-captain Paora Winitana (pictured right) has been de-throned. And, deliciously for the start of this best-of-three finals series, Nelson Giants import Josh Pace has ascended to his place.
Pace, a member of the league's All-Star Five in 2006, was a comfortable winner of this year's honour after averaging 22.4 points, 8.1 rebounds, 4.3 assists and 1.3 steals throughout the 18-game regular season.
Still, Winitana didn't walk away entirely empty-handed after sharing the Kiwi MVP with the Taranaki Mountain Airs' naturalised American Link Abrams. Winitana averaged 19.1 points, 5.2 rebounds, 2.8 assists and 1.2 steals per game this season.
Elsewhere, Pace was also named outstanding guard and Abrams outstanding forward and outstanding Kiwi forward. Rookie of the year was Charlie Piho of the Auckland Stars, while the Harbour Heat's John Dorge was coach of the year. The All Star Five for 2007 was Pace, Abrams, Lindsay Tait and Dillon Boucher of the Auckland Stars and Oscar Forman of the Heat.
With more important things to think about, ie tonight's final at Pettigrew-Green Arena, SportToday didn't bother the players or coach Shawn Dennis with questions about these essentially meaningless awards. No, we've got general manager Michael Barbour for that.
"Obviously, individual awards are things that do mean something to those that get them. But the only thing anyone in this team is really interested in winning is that championship we won last year," Barbour said.
The awards are determined by votes from the NBL coaches, media and fans. SportToday was invited to take part in the media voting, but declined on the basis that too many players voters had to rank came from teams not in the playoffs. Hence, not particularly valuable after all.
In terms of tonight's match, Barbour said there were still a few tickets available and confirmed that we may witness one of the true Pettigrew-Green Arena spectacles.
"About 100, to be precise. Although that was last night and I'd expect them to be snapped up today," he said.
"As a national event, we'll obviously be having the anthem and a traditional challenge will be issued to Nelson as well."
Which will hopefully include Winitana. In past years, as a local kapa haka group has performed Tika Tonu in front of the visitors, Winitana has broken Hawks ranks and joined the challenge. As spine-tingling moments go, few things can match.
"A lot of people have asked me whether Paora will join in and we'll just have to see. From our point of view, we just want people to have an enjoyable night and to cap it off with a win."