All-Star voting is a touchy subject in every sport, and NBA fans and media let the invective fly after the Jan. 27 reveal of the NBA players who will start the 71st NBA All-Star Game in Cleveland. No selection garnered more attention — primarily negative — than Golden State Warriors forward Andrew Wiggins. The 2014 No. 1 overall pick is going to his first All-Star Game on the strength of a surprisingly strong performance in the fan voting.
Wiggins edged out teammate Draymond Green for the final starting frontcourt slot from the Western Conference, joining LeBron James of the Los Angeles Lakers and Nikola Jokić of the Denver Nuggets despite finishing fifth in the players’ vote and sixth in voting by NBA media members.
However, the NBA couldn’t be happier about the controversy. It’s just the result it hoped to achieve.
Andrew Wiggins and his unlikely flood of fan support
There are 24 roster spots for the NBA All-Star Game, meaning less than 5% of the players get the call. The media chose the starting lineups from the first All-Star Game played in Boston in 1951 through 1974.
For the 1975 midseason classic in Phoenix, fan voting determined the 10 players on the floor for the opening tipoff. This system remained in place through 2016. At that point, the NBA introduced the current three-pronged approach.
Fan voting makes up half of the equation for selecting the starters. Polling of players and media comprises 25% each. Players receive a ranking based on their place in the vote totals (one for first, two for second, and so on). A weighted score determines the starting lineup, with the lowest scores earning the slots.
So how did we end up with Andrew Wiggins? On Jan. 7, the Golden State Warriors announced K-pop star Bam Bam as a global ambassador. His first act in his lofty position? A tweet asking his fans to support Wiggins in the All-Star voting.
That was enough to push the eighth-year pro over the top. Wiggins finished third in the fan voting behind James and Jokić. Combined with his fifth-place tally from the players and a sixth-place spot among media members, his composite score of 4.25 beat Green’s 4.75.
Andrew Wiggins wasn’t the only dubious choice, but it got people talking
There was much discussion about the NBA All-Star Game on social media following the announcement of the starters. That discourse continued with television, radio, and social platforms discussing the injustice of the voting system well into the following day.
While the selection of Andrew Wiggins took center stage, Atlanta Hawks star Trae Young earning a starting nod from the Eastern Conference got its share of outrage as well.
Put those two results together, and the NBA got what it wanted from the voting process.
People talked for close to 24 hours straight about the NBA All-Star Game. It fell solidly in the territory established more than a century ago by American showman P.T. Barnum, who, according to The Phrase Finder, declared, “There’s no such thing as bad publicity.”
With the NFL’s conference championships kicking off Sunday, the NBA All-Star Game managed to scrap its way into the national sports conversation on Thursday and Friday. Whether the discourse was critical or positive doesn’t matter.
The existence of the talk is what counts. It’s OK to think Wiggins wasn’t the best choice as a starter for the NBA All-Star Game. With that fact becoming a talking point all over the media, the NBA won the news cycle.
What’s next in the process leading up to the NBA All-Star Game
We know the starters set for Cleveland on Feb. 20, including Andrew Wiggins. Besides James and Jokić, the other West starters are Stephen Curry of the Warriors and Ja Morant of the Memphis Grizzlies. Joining Young from the East are Kevin Durant of the Brooklyn Nets, Giannis Antetokounmpo from the Milwaukee Bucks, Philadelphia 76ers center Joel Embiid, and DeMar DeRozan from the Chicago Bulls.
Next is the selection of the reserves for the NBA All-Star Game.
That announcement comes on Feb. 3 during TNT’s NBA Tip-Off at 7 p.m. Eastern. Coaches from the Eastern and Western conferences vote on seven reserves from each group.
The coaches of the teams leading the East and West on Feb. 6 earn trips to the NBA All-Star Game, as well. The one caveat is that last year’s coaches — Quin Snyder of the Utah Jazz and Doc Rivers of the 76ers — are ineligible.
The top finishers in the fan voting in each conference are team captains. James and Durant won the honors for the second straight year. For LeBron, it’s his fifth consecutive All-Star captaincy.
The captains draft players for their teams on Feb. 10. We’re guaranteed to have at least one injury replacement this year; Durant is recovering from a sprained knee. On Jan. 25, Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports reported on TNT that Durant wouldn’t play.
Next comes All-Star Weekend, with the NBA All-Star Celebrity Game and the Rising Stars featured on Feb. 18. All-Star Saturday night includes the Skill Challenge, 3-Point Contest, and Slam Dunk Contest. Finally comes the NBA All-Star Game itself at 8 p.m. Eastern on Feb. 20.
The best-case scenario for the NBA is more controversy among the reserve choices. There are more news cycles to win, especially with the Super Bowl pushed back a week to Feb. 13 this year.