NBA All-Star Voting: Is it FAN-tastic?
The NBA announced the starters selected for the 2023 NBA All-Star Game recently. The game will be held on Sunday, February 19th in Salt Lake City. The Utah Jazz franchise will serve as the host for this year’s exhibition. The starters were selected by a combination of fans, media, and players themselves. Here they are:
Forward: Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee Bucks (7th All-Star Selection)
Forward: Kevin Durant, Brooklyn Nets (13th All-Star Selection)
Forward: Jayson Tatum, Boston Celtics (4th All-Star Selection)
Guard: Kyrie Irving, Brooklyn Nets (8th All-Star Selection)
Guard: Donovan Mitchell, Cleveland Cavaliers (4th All-Star Selection)
Forward: LeBron James, Los Angeles Lakers (19th All-Star Selection)
Forward: Zion Williamson, New Orleans Pelicans (2nd All-Star Selection)
Center: Nikola Jokic, Denver Nuggets (5th All-Star Selection)
Guard: Luka Doncic, Dallas Mavericks (4th All-Star Selection)
Guard: Stephen Curry, Golden State Warriors (9th All-Star Selection)
LeBron James and Giannis Antetokounmpo were the top vote-getters in their respective conferences so they will be this year’s captains. 2023 will mark the third time that “Team LeBron” will face “Team Giannis” in an NBA All-Star Game. This also occurred for the 2019 and 2020 exhibitions. This year’s NBA All-Star Game will have a one slight change. Instead of having the captains choose their teams days before the game, LeBron and Giannis will pick their teams in a pre-game segment on TNT – right before the game! I wonder if either captain will be accused of tampering like one was back in 2019…
There is debate each year after the starters are announced if the fans got the All-Star voting right. In other words, did the fans pick the players most deserving of starting in the NBA-All Star Game? Their choices could impact a player on the cusp of making the All-Star game. If an unexpected or less deserving player get voted in by the fans to start that fringe player is impacted. That’s one less All-Star appearance for said player, not to mention they miss out on an All-Star bonus check. Some fan choices over the years have been debatable to say the least.
Most of said debate is led by Hall-of-Famer and TNT’s Charles Barkley. “Sir Charles” has been an adversary against the fans being the one to choose the starters. That’s despite the fact that those same fans selected him to start most of the 11 All-Star Games that Barkley was selected to during his playing career. For what it’s worth, I think the fans got this year’s vote right for the most part. Let’s not forget that the media and players have a say in voting for the All-Star starters now. There are only one or two selections I would personally debate. It’s not like Lakers backup guard Austin Reaves was selected as an All-Star starter this season. No offense, Austin.
Austin Reaves of the Lakers (Photo Credit: ballershoesdb.com)
The second-year guard, who is affectionally known as “Hillbilly Kobe,” is having have a solid year. Reaves is averaging 10.8 points per game and shooting 36% from three-point range off the Lakers’ bench. Solid, yes. All-Star? No. The thing is, Austin Reaves was 8th among Western Conference guards in the All-Star fan vote. He got more votes that the Phoenix Suns’ Devin Booker (3-time All-Star) and DeAaron Fox of the Sacramento Kings – who has a decent chance of being selected by the coaches to his first All-Star game this season. Sure, Reaves was about 4 million votes away from being selected as a starter. Still, this is a perfect example of why the NBA changed the way All-Star starters were being selected in 2016.
The 10 starters for the NBA All-Star Game had been chosen solely by fan vote since the 1974-75 season. Remember the NBA’s marketing campaign during the mid-1980s? The NBA: It’s FAN-tastic! The league was trying to garner fan interest in it’s mid-season exhibition. By doing so, the NBA turned it’s All-Star game into a popularity contest. The fans voted in players deserving of starting most of the time. There were multiple headscratchers over the years. Some selections, or almost selections, were obvious pranks. That’s why the NBA moved to add its players and media to the vote.
All-Star starters are now selected based on the fans (50%), media (25%), and players (25%). So, why did the league decide that they needed to make a change ahead of the 2016-17 season, specifically? It’s not like fans of the NBA would purposely make a mockery of its All-Star game. They wouldn’t vote in a "scrub" and take the honor of an All-Star selection away from a more deserving player, could they? Could it be because in 2016 then-Mavericks center Zaza Pachulia was a mere 14,000 fan votes away from STARTING in the 2016 NBA All-Star Game?
Yes. That’s EXACTLY why the NBA changed the way All-Star starters are voted in.
Zaza Pachulia averaged 8.6 points and 9.4 rebounds per game for the 2015-16 Dallas Mavericks. He started 69 of the 76 games that he played in that season. Again, solid? Yes. All-Star caliber? No. Pachulia joined the Golden State Warriors ahead of the 2016-17 season. He averaged 6.1 points and 5.9 rebounds for the Dubs and started in all 70 games he played in. Solid? Maybe. All-Star caliber? Nope. And yet, who was the 2nd leading vote-getter among Western Conference frontcourt players in 2017? Zaza F. Pachulia. If the league would not have change the voting process before that season the West’s starting lineup for the 2017 All-Star Game would have been Kevin Durant, Kawhi Leonard, Russell Westbrook, James Harden, and…
I don’t mean to poke fun at the guy, but how did 1.5 million fans legitimately vote Zaza Pachulia as an All-Star starter? The better question is WHY would 1.5 million fans vote in Pachulia as an All-Star starter? There are two reasons. It’s obvious that fans collectively thought it would be hilarious if Zaza Pachulia of all people were selected to start an NBA All-Star Game. They were correct in that thought. The second reason is that Zaza Pachulia IS a fan favorite throughout the league (except for San Antonio). This clip may have something to do with why Pachulia is a fan favorite…
There may have been another reason the NBA chose to change it’s All-Star starter selection structure when it did. In 2016, the NHL had such a situation play out where veteran left-winger John Scott was voted by the fans to its All-Star game. Scott had recorded 1 point in 11 games played that season ahead of the NHL’s exhibition. He had been a healthy scratch for most of the year for the Arizona Coyotes. Scott even pleaded with NHL fans to vote for his teammates instead of him. Despite Scott’s pleas he was selected to the 2016 NHL All-Star Game and played in the event. He recorded two goals and was named All-Star Game MVP, despite his name being removed from the ballot. Many players went to Twitter and tweeted the hashtag #VoteMVPScott. It worked and ended up being a great story.
Pachulia may have been the closest “non-All-Star caliber player to be selected for the NBA’s game as an All-Star starter by the fans in recent years, but he wasn’t the first. Here is a list of some notable players who finished in the top-5 in the fan vote for the All-Star game at their position since 1990. You tell me if these guys are legitimate All-Stars:
Tacko Fall (2020): I hope I don’t need to explain why he should not have been an All-Star.
Marcin Gortat (2015): I only added him for my little brother who for some reason started calling him Goran “The Gopher” Gortat around 2008.
Joel Anthony (2012): 3.4 points and 3.7 rebounds per game. Solid NBA All-Star
Antonio McDyess (2010): McDyess was an All-Star caliber player from 1998-2001 when he averaged 20 and 10. McDyess in 2010? 5.8 points and 5.9 rebounds per game.
Luke Ridnour, Yi Jianlian, and Kendrick Perkins (2009): Was there a severe global brain fart going on in 2009 that I wasn’t aware of?
Michael Olowokandi (2006): He was the Zaza Pachulia of All-Star vote-getters for his time.
Rasho Nesterovic (2004 AND 2005!): 5.9 points and 6.6 rebounds per game. Stop it.
Luc Longley (1997 & 1998): I loved Luc on the Bulls. Solid center but not an All-Star.
Duane Causwell (1993): If you’re thinking “who?” you are not alone.
Felton Spencer (1995): He had a name more suitable for a daytime soap opera.
John Paxson (1992): He and Michael Jordan combined to average 37.1 points per game that season. MJ averaged 30.1 of those points.
Those guys were close-ish to being selected as NBA All-Stars by the fans. Again, no offense to them but not many NBA fans would consider these guys All-Star caliber players. There have been big name, perennial All-Stars who have been voted into the game by the fans despite missing much of the season due to injury up to that point. This is where name recognition and popularity help certain guys if their play wasn’t up to snuff. At the end of the day there were replacements named to the game to replace the injured stars, except for one. Here are some examples:
Michael Jordan(1985): Played in only 3 games before breaking his foot. Didn’t play.
Penny Hardaway(1998): Played in only 13 games to that point and fans gave him the start over the more deserving Tim Hardaway. He played.
Alonzo Mourning (2001): ‘Zo played in only 13 games that season due to a kidney issue. Didn’t play.
Grant Hill (2001): Hill only played in 4 games due to an ankle injury. Didn’t play.
Yao Ming (2011): Played in 5 games that season due to injured foot. He’d retire after the season. Didn’t play.
Kobe Bryant (2014): He returned from an Achilles injury in December that year but only played in 6 games before shutting it down for the year. Didn’t play.
Hell, Magic Johnson didn’t play a single regular season game for the Lakers back in 1991-92. The fans still voted him in into the 1992 NBA All-Star Game! That's the season where Magic retired due to contracting the HIV virus. Then-commissioner David Stern allowed Magic to play in the game. It was a great story as Johnson took home the game’s MVP. It was a great story and Stern allowed a 13th player to be named to the West All-Star’s that season so that no one would be snubbed.
There are also the aging stars who have been voted in by the fans as All-Star starters. I’m talking about NBA legends and Hall-of-Fame caliber players. These guys deserved their flowers, no question about it. It’s just that there were likely more deserving players that earned the right with their superior play to start in the All-Star game in those seasons rather than these legends in their last years in the league.
John Havlicek (1978)
Julius Erving (1987)
Allen Iverson (2009 & 2010)
Kobe Bryant (2016)
Finally, I give you three players who were without a doubt solid NBA players and starters for good teams. Have there been other questionable All-Star starters in the past (Steve Francis in 2004 and Andrew Wiggins in 2022, for example)? Yes. These three gentlemen stood out as the most unlikely All-Star starters voted in by the fans. Were they popular players in their hometowns? Did the fans of these teams purposely stuff the ballot boxes to get their team’s players in the All-Star game? Were these the only All-Star selections of their careers? The answer to all those questions is, equivocally yes.
Lonnie Shelton (1982)
Season Stats: 14.9 ppg, 6.3 rpg
Fans of the Seattle Supersonics stuffed the All-Star ballot boxes in 1982. Gus Williams was voted in as a starter (rightfully so). They tried their best to vote Fred Brown (11.2 ppg, 2.9 apg) and Jack Sikma (who deservingly made the game as a reserve) in as starters. Sonics fans managed to get Shelton into the game. You can’t tell me with a straight face that he was more deserving in ’82 than Bernard King, Mark Aguirre, or even Elvin Hayes!
A.C Green (1990)
Season Stats:12.9 ppg, 8.7 apg
The NBA’s “Iron Man” was a solid forward throughout his career and the 1989-90 season was no exception. Maybe Lakers fans needed someone else to vote into the All-Star Game after Kareem Abdul-Jabbar retired in 1989. Still, you can’t convince me that A.C. Green was more deserving of being an All-Star starter in 1990 than Karl Malone, Chris Mullin, or Tom Chambers. Green’s selection likely cost Seattle’s Xavier McDaniel an All-Star nod that year.
B.J. Armstrong (1994)
Season Stats: 14.8 ppg, 3.9 apg, 44.4% 3PT
Armstrong was a fan-favorite in Chicago in during early-90s. He was a solid point guard who shot from distance at a high percentage. Was he more deserving of an All-Star selection than Reggie Miller, Steve Smith, or Rex Chapman that season? Armstrong was THE top vote-getter among East guards. He even got more votes than Bulls teammate Scottie Pippen. Pippen won All-Star Game MVP that year!
Would it be the worst thing if the world watched Yi Jianlian attempt to throw lobs to Felton Spencer in an All-Star game? Maybe not. Who would it hurt to see Joel Anthony throw up a couple shots from three-point range? Ok, that one crossed the line. The point I’m trying to make is that while NBA All-Star voting is fun for the fans they don’t always pick the players most deserving of the honor. It does potentially affect guys who were deserving of playing in the game who never get picked.
I’ll admit that I have been guilty of purposely voting in players who had no business starting in an NBA All-Star game over the years. Players like Dickey Simpkins, Brian Scalabrine, Matt Steigenga, Boban Marjanovic, Jack Haley, Darko Milicic, and even Zaza Pachulia have appeared on my All-Star ballots. I guess I’m part of the problem. Could you imagine if any of those guys were named NBA All-Stars?
Yeah, it probably IS a good thing that the NBA changed the way starting players were voted into its All-Star game.
Photo Credit: Depositphotos by license