The new NBA MVP trophy is made in Milwaukee
The Wednesday battle between Milwaukee Bucks star Giannis Antetokounmpo and Denver Nuggets star Nikola Jokić didn't materialize when Jokić was held out of the game as he continues to work his way back from a sore hamstring. Milwaukee fans will need an NBA Finals clash to see Jokić and Antetokounmpo go head-to-head this season at Fiserv Forum.
The two men have possession of the past four NBA Most Valuable Player awards, and if you wanted to wager on one of them claiming a fifth this year, you'd be making a pretty safe bet. Jokić is the leader in the clubhouse in that regard, with the potential of winning a third straight MVP in 2023.
This year's trophy will be different, however. In December, the NBA unveiled a new series of trophies for its individual award winners, including the newly christened "Michael Jordan Trophy" honoring the league's MVP.
And whether or not that bronze beauty stays in Milwaukee is up in the air, but it was definitely born in Milwaukee.
Vanguard Sculpture Services has work all over Milwaukee
The task of making the silicon bronze body of the award fell to Vanguard Sculpture Services in Milwaukee, and if that name doesn't ring a bell, you're still likely familiar with their work. It's the same shop that produced the Bronze Fonz on Milwaukee's RiverWalk, Gertie the Duck on the Wisconsin Avenue bridge, the statue of Al McGuire in the Al McGuire Center and the Acqua Grylli statue between Wells and Kilbourn on the RiverWalk.
Within a unique space on Milwaukee's north side designed specifically to maximize natural light, numerous projects big and small wind up in the hands of Vanguard, Including the NBA trophy. Mark Smith, the creative director of Jordan Brand, was part of the creative process.
"I worked with the creative team through many iterations to come to the final product, and they 3D printed their final product and they brought it to me for mold making," said Mike Nolte, one of Vanguard's co-owners. "I have to make a mold, which is a tool to make a wax, and I have to have a wax, which is a tool to make a bronze."
Working with molten bronze approaching 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit, the Vanguard team painstakingly goes to work pouring into the hollow molds, leaving a campfire-like whiff in the air. After cooling, pieces can be welded together to produce the final product.
"(The projects) all have their own challenges," Nolte said. "Life-size one is scale, the smaller objects are (all about) detail. So you get down to a certain level, and we're down to a level of fingerprint-size detail, so more care has to be taken."
Michael Jordan, made in Milwaukee?
Vanguard made five of the NBA MVP trophies, including a foundry copy that allows the shop to replicate more. The trophy is full of specific details, including:
The trophy stands 23.6 inches tall and weighs 23.6 pounds, representing Jordan’s jersey number (23) and number of NBA championships (6).
Its five-sided base is a nod to Jordan’s five league MVPs.
The namesake badge is six-sided, a nod to Jordan’s six NBA championships.
The 15-degree angle of the base is a nod to Jordan’s 15-season career.
The crystal basketball consists of 23 points, a nod to Jordan’s jersey number.
The crystal basketball measures 1.23 inches in diameter, in reference to the singularity of the MVP and Jordan’s standout career.
Vanguard pours on an irregular schedule: Sometimes once a week, sometimes every other week, sometimes three times a week depending on the volume of work. Everyone who works there has artist sensibilities.
"That's the only people we hire," Nolte said. "They're the only people who know what to look for, what visual questions to ask. Because we work with so many different artists and everybody has a language, we are multi-lingual in 3-dimensional form."
How did the NBA wind up finding a spot in Milwaukee to produce its new jewel? The Milwaukee Record noted that Pete Mauhar, another member of Jordan's expanded marketing team and a Milwaukee native, first made the connection. Of course, it's much simpler than that.
"We're the best fine art foundry on planet earth," Nolte said. "It says so on our business card."
JR Radcliffe can be reached at (262) 361-9141 or email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter at @JRRadcliffe.
This article originally appeared on Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: New NBA MVP trophy, in Michael Jordan's likeness, made in Milwaukee