The nine guys mention here are mainly names that if you read about physics or are curious and look at the physics section in the library, bookstores, or google popular physics-astronomy books, you will see their names.
What is interesting about these awards is that the work apparently does not have to be confirmed by experiment as can be seen by some of the winners who won for their work in string theory. String theory has yet to make a prediction that has been confirmed experimentally. Now some of string theories techniques have become useful to others. These techniques have been applied by others to make predictions in the area of QCD (Quantam ChromoDynamics) and Condensed Matter physics. Use in QCD is shown here:
QCD is the theory that is used to describe the strong nuclear force which is one of the four forces that we know of in the universe. QCD is used to help describe physics that is done at the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) at CERN. CERN is the place where the Higgs boson was observed as announced to the public in 2012. The theoretical physics that predicted the Higgs boson was done in 1964, long before QCD and String Theory. The Milner awards that the NYTimes article is about is a new award and I expect in the future that Stephen Hawking will be a winner at some point.
The guys who have won these awards have not won a Nobel Prize yet because the Nobel is given for theories that have been shown to be correct experimentally. This can be seen in this years Nobel awards for the Higgs boson whose existence was predicted in 1964 but was not experimentally confirmed until 2012. Einstein won his award for his theoretical work on the photoelectric effect, which was experimentally known at the time. He did not win for his theories of relativity as most people assume.