NBA Teammate of the Year Mike Conley explains importance of the award

The NBA’s Twyman-Stokes Teammate of the Year Award is not one of the league’s most prominent awards.

It is one of the most significant.

The NBA says the award goes to the ‘player deemed the best teammate based on selfless play, on- and off-court leadership as a mentor and role model to other NBA players, and commitment and dedication to team.’

The award is rooted in humanity, compassion, selflessness and a willingness to help those around you be the best person and player possible.

The award is named after Maurice Stokes and Jack Tywman, teammates on the Rochester/Cincinnati Royals from 1955-58. Stokes sustained an on-court injury, was paralyzed and diagnosed with post-traumatic encephalopathy. Twyman became his Stokes’ legal guardian and supported him until Stokes’ death in 1970.

It is one of my favorite NBA awards. This season, Minnesota Timberwolves starting point guard Mike Conley won the award for the second time. Winning once is an honor. Winning twice shines even more light on the player’s character.

I talked to Conley, whose Timberwolves play the Denver Nuggets in Game 7 of the Western Conference semifinals Sunday (8 p.m. ET, TNT), about the award and what it means. Questions and answers have by edited for length and clarity.

USA TODAY: What does it mean to be a good teammate and what does that entail?

Conley: It’s part of my personality more than anything – the way I was raised, how I treat people. How I lead is by doing a bunch of different things. It could be by leading by example, it can be by being vocal, it can be by taking a guy out to eat when they’re having a slump or just really checking in on people, making sure they’re good. Ultimately, guys take away the fact that I put them above me at all times, and it’s obvious that guys like being around people like that.

USA TODAY: You mentioned your upbringing. What happened as a kid to let you know that, hey, there’s more than just going out there and making buckets, passing the ball and playing defense?

Conley: It starts with my parents (Mike Sr. and Regina). They’ve been the ones who have guided me and pushed me and given me the template on how to do things at a young age. I’ve played basketball since I was 3, 4 years old, and I’d be in elementary school games and it could be co-ed, where you have girls on your team, all that stuff, and I’m the best player on the court, and I’m just thinking, ‘How can I get this girl a layup if she doesn’t really like basketball?’ I felt like she’ll have more fun if she can get a shot off or this person can get a shot off. I just found ways to use my talent to just try to get other people to enjoy their experience on the court.

USA TODAY: If I’m following correctly, kindness and compassion and understanding, and even if that means getting on a guy a little bit differently than you might another player, are part of your approach.

Conley: The biggest thing is having empathy. I put myself in everybody’s shoes to the best of my knowledge. Obviously, we are all brought up differently, come from different areas, have seen different things, so I try to dissect that with each guy. How do I speak to Rudy Gobert? He’s from a different country (France). How did he grow up? I don’t know. How do I speak to Ant (Anthony Edwards)? He’s from Georgia, and how do I speak to him differently than KAT (Karl-Anthony Towns)? So everybody has their things and can be spoken to in different ways or can be led in different ways, and I just have an ability to recognize that with each person and build a connection with everybody.

USA TODAY: What were your first thoughts when you found out you won the Twyman-Stokes Award?

Conley: I was surprised, and I always am for some reason. I don’t ever expect anything. I honestly don’t. I don’t expect credit, I don’t expect any awards. For me to get one of this nature and this magnitude is one that signifies so much more than the game, so much more than basketball. It signifies the kind of person you are, the kind of player you are, the kind of compassion you have, the kind of competitive nature you have towards the game, and how you can effectively change people around you for the better and have a positive impact on people.

USA TODAY: This is your second time winning the award. How familiar are you with the story?

Conley: It was unbelievably touching to see. That just signifies so much more than this game. You just see the love and passion he (Twyman) has towards another human being, not even a blood relative or anything like that, but somebody (Stokes) he truly believes in and wants to take care of and loves.

USA TODAY: You have children. Is there anything you share with them that illustrates what we’re talking about here?

Conley: My kids are very active in sports. They play soccer, flag football, basketball, baseball. They play hockey now that we’re in Minnesota, so we’ve got all the sports wrapped up and they truthfully do listen to everything I say as far as sportsmanship is concerned. My oldest is 7 years old and right now he’s bigger and taller and faster than most kids, and he just runs by people. I was like, ‘Hey man, I know you can score the goal. I know you can get the ball and do this, but how about trying to make a great pass for this person or try to get your good friend over there a good look or just trying to get them to understand the team concept of things and how much more fulfilling it is when you see others succeed, not just yourself.’ It seems like they’re coming around to it. So hopefully I just keep setting that imprint and they follow.

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