Yesterday the NBA unveiled the starters for this year's All-Star game, the results of "fan" voting that has been going on since November 13. What it revealed--unequivocally--was that no one watches the NBA anymore.
Note the suits of cards on the jacket's sleeves. Daddy like. But, Bron: Why haven't you covered up those Adidas logos with swoosh-shaped tape, or at least written an LBJ in Sharpie over them? Didn't you get Phil Knight's memo?
The two biggest stories associated with the lineups were that Steve Nash and Dirk "Werewolf at Sunset" Nowitzki were not voted in and Gilby "Hibachi" Arenas beat Vince Carter by the narrowest of margins for the second guard spot in the East. Remarkably, if national sportswriters were to vote on the league's MVP today, a combination of those three men would probably be the top three vote-getters.
Nash is posting 19.6 points per game with a league-leading 11.6 assists, numbers that eclipse the stats that won him MVPs the last two seasons. He leads a team that has won thirty-two of their last thirty-four games. It would be impossible for him to be playing much better.
Although Werewolf at Sunset has had an inconistent season, he's still pacing 25.1 and 9.3, which is nothing to scoff at. He's the focal point of a team that somehow might even be better than the Suns. Especially during this month, he has been dominant.
Hibachi's 29.7 points per contest are second in the league, and he has willed a mediocre team to victory on several occasions, with two game-winners this month alone. He's scored over fifty points on three separate occasions as well. While doing all of that on the court, he has been the most consistently hilarious pro athlete this side of Mark Fydrich. Every day he says (or in this case writes) something like, "If I have the chance to go back to college, I'll give up one NBA season to play against Duke. One college game that's five fouls, right? ... 40-minute game at Duke, they got soft rims I'd probably score 84 or 85. I wouldn't pass the ball. I wouldn't even think about passing it. It would be like a NBA Live or an NBA 2K7 game, you just shoot with one person." Here's a guy who wore a boxer's robe to a shootaround; who plays online poker at halftime; who, after every game, "rates his swag"; who chooses to sleep on the couch of his mansion; who fucking wore a shirt that said "Vote Gilbert" on TNT's selection show. He is essential to the American basketball experience. Yet he only got 3,010 more votes than a guy who openly chili dogged half a season with a team to get traded?
How many times did Agent Zero vote for himself? I'm guessing more than the deciding 3,010. Just keep that labtop away from Marcus Williams, Gilby.
Despite the greatness of these players, the fans voted in, almost without exception, the ten most popular players in the league:
G- Dwyane Wade
G- Gilby Arenas
F- Chris Bosh
F- LeBron James
C- Shaquille O'Neal
Oh, by the way, Mr. O'Neal, despite being a 325-pound ball of marketable love, has seen his numbers drop across the board, most notably in points. He has only logged 12.2 points a game in, you know, the seven games in which he has played. If Aaron Rodgers-Brett Favre is a 10.0 on the "I want him to retire" scale, and Chris Berman-Brett Favre is a 0.0, Dwight Howard is sporting a solid 7.6 with regard to Diesel. You'll get yours, podnuh.
Otherwise, the East is looking pretty much as it should. I would have been pissed if Bosh hadn't been selected, but I couldn't have been too angry, considering that I voted Andres Nocioni over him--I'm dumb like that.
If Jermaine O'Neal had been selected, I might have done something drastic like...scoring 84 points on him with Hibachi in NBA Live.
With the exception of Yao, this is pretty much how the West has looked since 1999. McGrady is the sore thumb (or back) here--although the Rockets have caught fire as of late, his production is down and he was inactive for a stretch in December. On the aforementioned TNT selection show, via satellite from his home gym, he admitted that he's not worthy of catching a pass from Nash right now. With his kid climbing all over his lap, he said something to the effect of, "If it wasn't my fans voting me in, wanting me to play, I would give my spot to him." That's nice I guess. It's not his fault that he has stans across the globe who think he's still going to be Jordan. To his credit, McGrady was the fifth leading vote-getter overall, so there are a lot of these people.
Obviously, either Duncan or Garnett shouldn't have been voted in over W.a.S. On paper, both are having much better years than I thought. But The Big Ticket (one of the worst nicknames in pro sports) is playing for a dreadful team, which should count for something. I'm sure Iverson would have found his way into one of these lineups, but his late conference switch as a result of being traded hurt him.
Does anyone else see this as a dick move? Good thing pro athletes can't tell the difference between broadcasters' fake laughs and real ones.
What it comes down to is that the Nash and W.a.S. are less popular than the guys who made it. Yes, eventually the coaches will name both reserves, and no one will remember that they were snubbed like this. But the complacency that informs these all-star teams is the source of two problems with balloting: T-Mobile is the new sponsor and the voting process begins too early.
To pump up these statistics--LeBron has the second-most votes ever! 2.5 million!--the NBA starts the balloting in November, the first month of the season. Obviously, this is way too early to have a realistic idea of who the best players are. For example, on several of my early ballots, I voted in Chauncey Billups as my second East guard. While my reasons were justified at the time, his half-season of play so far is definitely not all-star caliber. I was working with his performance in something like the first ten games. When cast in this light, Arenas probably would have paced Half-Man/Half-Amazing if the early numbers were discounted. I doubt anyone voting in the last month would have chosen Carter over him. It's The Takeover.
Another reason why the wrong players are winning spots is that less educated fans are voting due to the change in all-star sponsorship. When I was a kid the distributor of ballots was Foot Locker, which is an obvious choice for this type of thing. This year the paper voting was hosted by T-Mobile locations. Of course I don't expect the NBA to weigh this in their decision for whose money they should take, but who's going to make a more informed decision about who should be the starting center for the Eastern Conference: someone buying basketball shoes or someone impatiently waiting to talk to someone about his Sidekick's charging problems? Clearly, this difference matters.
Like I said, who starts in an all-star game is irrelevant historically. By next week, the coaches' votes for the reserves should rectify some of these oversights. For each conference, they'll select two forwards, two guards, one center, and two other players of any position.
In my opinion, it will (and probably should) look like this:
F- Jermaine O'Neal
F- Caron Butler
G- Jason Kidd
G- Vince Carter
C- Dwight Howard
1- Joe Johnson
2- Rip Hamilton
-Since the Bulls are a hot team, I wouldn't be surprised if either Ben Wallace, Luol Deng, or Ben Gordon snuck in, though I'm keeping my fingers crossed for Nocioni.
-Emeka Okafor probably deserves one of those forward spots, but I just don't think enough people see him play. And people like O'Neal for some reason.
- It's weird, but I don't think there's room here for Chauncey Billups, despite the fact that he could have won MVP last year and was the second best guard in the conference for about two weeks at the beginning of the season.
F- Carmelo Anthony
F- Dirk Nowitzki
G- Steve Nash
G- Allen Iverson
C- Amare Stoudemire
1- Josh Howard
2- Shawn Marion
- Carlos Boozer probably deserves a spot but will only get one if coaches question Anthony's candidacy because of his fighting suspension, which is quite a possibility.
- Zach Randolph probably garnered quite a few early votes, but he's kind of fallen off the map of late.
- Deron Williams will be a trendy pick but not trendy enough.
- Kevin Martin has been playing some great ball, but no one gives a shit about the Kings right now.
- Despite my several write-in votes, Mark Madsen can probably book that bed and breakfast he's been eyeing.
Chicken Noodle Soup! (Are those non-slip waiters' shoes? That's almost cool.)
No matter who paces those final spots on the squad, this is shaping up to be a good game on Febrary 18.