The National Basketball Association’s fan voting for the All-Star game is broken. The once gleaming idea that fans could vote their favorite players in as starters has been reduced to a system that robs deserving players of an opportunity to gain national recognition for their achievements.
On paper, the idea seems great. Fans get to see their favorite players all on one stage, and the league keeps what is essentially a pointless game relevant and exciting. The execution is were the problem lies.
With fan voting, the fair-weather-only-votes-for-their-team’s-players fan gets the same amount of votes as an educated, unbiased analyst. That presents several problems. For starters, the players voted in are not always the most deserving of the selection. Washington Wizard’s star John Wall stated that the voting has become a joke and that even he didn’t deserve as many votes as he received.
Looking at the starters selected this season, there are several question marks. On both sides, all ten starters play on the perimeter, leaving out several well deserving, little known, big men in the game. DeMarcus Cousins (27.0 points and 11.3 rebounds per game) and Andre Drummond (17.3 points and a league-leading 15.1 rebounds per game) are both more than deserving of starts. But because they play for Sacramento and Detroit, who aren’t turning anyone’s head this season, they aren’t receiving any recognition outside their initial fan base.
Fans also love their legends. It’s common to see that once a player is selected four or five years in a row, they secure that starting role for the next years after that. There are players who deserve this honor. Tim Duncan was selected in 11-straight All-Star games. Over that span, he averaged 21.1 points and 11.6 rebounds per game, earning each one of his selections. The same can’t be said for all aging superstars.
Houston Rockets big man Yao Ming was selected by Houston in 2002 and was voted a starter in all but one season during his nine-year career. The reason? He had most of his home nation of China voting him in.
In his first three seasons, Yao averaged 16.4 points and 8.5 rebounds per game. Decent, but not among the elite, which is what being voted a starter should incorporate. Fans of Yao like to argue that from 2005-2008, he averaged 23.1 points and 10.1 rebounds per game, which does classify among the best in the game. Still, in 2006, despite barely playing half the season, he led the NBA in votes with 2.3 million. The problem is that he was hardly on the floor. Over those three years, Yao only played 160 out of 246 games, while never playing in more than 60 games in any of those injury plagued seasons.
An athlete cannot be considered elite if he or she does not prove it on a regular basis, aka staying healthy.
A similar situation arrives this year. Kobe Bryant announced that his 20th season would be his last, so the fans went out of their way to make sure he got the vote. Even though he has put up dismal numbers (16.4 points per game and 35 percent shooting), fans voted him into his 17th-straight All-Star game start.
Is he one of the greatest to ever play? Yes. Is he one of the best players in the league right now? No.
When an injured or aging superstar is selected, it takes the spot away from someone else who deserves it. Fans argue that since the game doesn’t determine anything and that above all, they just want to see the biggest names, why does it matter?
Money and competition.
Players selected as starters receive a substantial financial bonus, as opposed to players selected as reserves. For younger players who haven’t made their millions yet, it’s a chance to make a little extra cash on the way to making themselves a household name.
Going back to the Drummond example, he leads the NBA in rebounding and 20-point-20-rebound games. While the selected starters average a salary of over $18 million, Drummond is making $3.2 million this year. Although it’s still millions, it all counts when an injury can end a career on any given night.
As far as competition goes, the ultimate goal should be to select the top ten performing players in the game at the time and let them showoff the best of what the NBA has to offer. Legends are great, and have had their opportunity to be acknowledged as the best, but it’s about getting the best the game has to offer today. Should fans really waste votes on an old and decrepit star who will just play the first five minutes of the game and ride the bench the rest of the night?
The solution is simple: give the starting five vote to the players, coaches and analyst. Let the fans decide everything else. The game would benefit immensely if fans got to vote on who they wanted to see in the slam dunk contest or the three-point shootout. Give that to the fans. But leave the player selections to those who know the game. It makes for a better game and a healthier league.
It’s a win-win scenario. Which in sports, is all but rare.