On Thursday night, the NBA All-Star Game starters were announced to a national audience on TNT. Nine of the 10 names mentioned were no surprise, with LeBron James, Kevin Durant, and Stephen Curry serving as no-doubt selections. But the one player who caught many off-guard was Andrew Wiggins.
Wiggins, who’s in the middle of his third season with the Golden State Warriors, joined LeBron and Nikola Jokic as Western Conference frontcourt starters. The 26-year-old is averaging 18.1 points, his lowest since 2018-19, but on a career-best 48.3% from the field and 41.2% from three. With 3.4 million votes, Wiggins beat out teammate Draymond Green along with Paul George, Rudy Gobert, and Karl-Anthony Towns for a starting spot.
It’s not the first time the All-Star voting has led to a surprising starter. Often, it’s been a past-his-prime superstar receiving votes on name recognition alone (Allen Iverson in 2010, Yao Ming in 2011, etc.). But every now and again, an unheralded player like Wiggins will leapfrog other star players to earn a spot in the starting lineup on All-Star weekend.
3. Fat Lever was the only non-Hall of Famer starting in 1988
Similar to how Wiggins stands out in 2022, Fat Lever was a unique starting choice in 1988.
Lafayette Lever, better known as “Fat”, became a dependable scoring option for the run-and-gun Denver Nuggets of the late ’80s. By the 1987-88 season, the 6-foot-3 guard was averaging an impressive 17.8 points. 7.5 rebounds, and 7.8 assists before the All-Star break.
In a three-man race for the second Western Conference starting guard spot, Lever narrowly beat out Alvin Robertson and Clyde Drexler to earn his first All-Star nod. The 27-year-old started alongside Magic Johnson, Karl Malone, Hakeem Olajuwon, and fellow Nuggets teammate Alex English. Meanwhile, the Eastern Conference starting five was Michael Jordan, Isiah Thomas, Larry Bird, Dominique Wilkins, and Moses Malone.
Lever made the most of his start, scoring 17 points in the West’s 138-133 loss. He would make one more All-Star team two years later, though not as a starter.
2. B.J. Armstrong took advantage of Michael Jordan’s retirement
When Michael Jordan suddenly retired from the NBA in 1993, it was Scottie Pippen’s turn to shine. But another Chicago Bulls player was able to capitalize on His Airness’ departure.
After becoming Chicago’s starting point guard the year prior, B.J. Armstrong’s role expanded in 1993-94. In 47 games leading up to the All-Star break, the 6-foot-2 guard was scoring a career-high 15.8 points a night on 47.5% shooting. As a result, he made quite the impression on Bulls fans during the voting process.
With no Jordan, Armstrong led all Eastern Conference guards with 529K votes. It was a weaker year for guards, with another first-time All-Star Kenny Anderson finishing as the runner-up. However, the biggest surprise was how Armstrong received more votes than every other All-Star aside from Charles Barkley and Shaquille O’Neal.
Yes, that means Armstrong got more love from fans than names like Olajuwon, Drexler, and his own teammate Pippen.
Armstrong only contributed 11 points to the cause as the East went on to win 127-118. Pippen finished with the last laugh, leading all players with 29 points and earning All-Star Game MVP.
1. A.C. Green stuck out like a sore thumb
The 1990 NBA All-Star Game in Miami featured an impressive collection of superstars. Jordan, Bird, Barkley, Magic, and Olajuwon were a few of the starters voted in by the fans. Just like ’88, there were nine future Hall of Famers on the court … and A.C. Green.
As Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s career came to a close, Green’s was on the rise. The 6-foot-9 power forward averaged double-digit points and over seven rebounds in four of his first five seasons with the Los Angeles Lakers. By the All-Star break in ’90, the Oregon native was averaging a cool, 13.3 points and 9.0 rebounds.
While Green’s numbers were fine, they were rather pedestrian compared to his All-Star peers. But he earned a chance to start alongside them anyway after receiving just over 1,200 more votes than Malone and 2,000 more than Xavier McDaniel for a second starting forward spot. Green was even under 3,000 votes away from passing teammate James Worthy as the West’s top vote-getter at forward.
Ultimately, Green started the All-Star Game because of his hustle, character, and the fact he was a Laker. He played just 11 minutes and scored zero points in what ended up being his only All-Star appearance.
All statistics courtesy of Basketball Reference.