Utah Jazz guard Jordan Clarkson was named the 2021 NBA Sixth Man of the Year award winner Monday evening in a surprise announcement revealed on TNT’s “Inside the NBA” show.
Clarkson was appearing alongside Jazz teammate and fellow 6MOY finalist Joe Ingles, ostensibly to discuss the team’s season and their both being finalists for the award.
However, host Ernie Johnson surreptitiously set up the announcement to come by conducting an impromptu trivia session on the history of the Sixth Man award, the final question of which was, “How many Utah Jazz players have won it?”
Clarkson guessed zero, which previously would have been the correct answer. Ingles, however, who was in on the surprise, guessed one — prompting a look of confusion from Clarkson. When Johnson asked Ingles to name that player, he pointed to his teammate, then brought the award trophy in from offscreen, presented it to Clarkson, and named him as this season’s winner.
Clarkson conceded to media in a follow-up news conference that that he was stunned at how the revelation played out.
“I was really speechless,” he said. “I don’t really do well with surprises.”
Clarkson averaged a career-high 18.4 points per game this season, along with 4.0 rebounds and 2.5 assists. He shot 42.5% from the field, 34.7% from the 3-point line, and 89.6% at the free-throw line. He hit a league-best 203 3-pointers off the bench this season.
Clarkson garnered 65 out of 100 first-place votes, and finished with 407 total points in the voting for the award. Ingles was a distant second, getting 34 first-place votes and 272 points. Knicks guard Derrick Rose was third, with a single first-place vote and 77 points.
Asked what it meant to have his teammate Ingles present him with the award, Clarkson grew emotional, noting that they have a particularly strong bond.
“I would say he’s up there being one of my closest teammates. We’ve sat in locker rooms where it’s just been me and him, and had conversations with my personal life and stuff like that,” Clarkson said. “He sits across from me on the plane, we hang out, we drink beers together. We should come out with a beer company soon, [given] how many beers we drink on our off-days.”
The sixth-year guard, known for his positive demeanor and being the de facto leader of the Jazz’s so-called “Good Vibes Tribe,” gave out a ton of thank-yous over the course of his media session.
He name-checked a number of previous 6MOY winners, including Lou Williams, Jamal Crawford, Manu Ginobili, and J.R. Smith. He circled back to Williams at one point, noting how his former Lakers teammate had proved a significant influence in his formative years in the league, trying to convince him to slow down both on and off the court, even if Clarkson had been too stubborn to appreciate it at the time.
He gave shout-outs to numerous coaches and teammates along the way, including Jazz coach Quin Snyder for breaking down his shooting habits upon his December 2019 trade from Cleveland. He thanked his current Jazz teammates for being so accepting of him, and for making “winning” the best part of this season.
“This team is just amazing, how we bond together,” Clarkson said. “… I know it sounds kind of cliché, but having these teammates and coaching staff — I feel like you don’t really get this opportunity to have [but] once or twice ever.”
And in a particularly poignant moment, former Jazz sixth man-turned-TV analyst Thurl Bailey joined the Zoom interview to ask Clarkson about the process of mentally coming to accept a bench role when you believe you are good enough to start, with Bailey noting how in his playing days, there was a “perception that [the role] was a downgrade.”
Clarkson recounted being 22 or 23 years old when Luke Walton got the Lakers’ head coaching job and informed Clarkson — previously a starter — that he’d now be coming off the bench.
“I kind of took it like, ‘Man, he don’t think I’m good enough. He gonna play me off the bench? I got to prove him wrong,’” Clarkson said. “… I was kind of hardheaded and like, ‘Man, whatever — I’m not listening to you,’ at first. It was definitely a process. And you know what? I just said, ‘This is who I’m gonna be. I’m just going to come in here and I’m gonna impact the game with the minutes that’s given to me, I’m playing my role and I’ma do it well.’”
Sixth Man of the Year well, as it turns out.