On several levels, the NBA All-Star game and its festivities make it the best All-Star event in all of professional sports. Compared to the NFL’s Pro Bowl, at least the All-Star game occurs in the middle of the season instead of right before the Super Bowl when the team playing for the Lombardi Trophy can’t participate. Of course, the MLB’s All-Star game may be considered the best due to the outcome’s value (winners earns home-field advantage for their league in the World Series), but many people prefer slam dunks over home runs.
While some things seem to work for the NBA’s mid-season event, the voting process is not one of them. In past seasons, players who clearly deserve the honor have been unfairly snubbed while others play just because of their notable names. This season, there seems to be major issues with All-Star voting once again, as seen with the release of the first poll a few days ago. Here, we break down the problems with the process and offer up a potential solution.
The first poll for the 2016 NBA All-Star game shows Kobe Bryant with the most votes in the entire league. Even with a less-than-spectacular season for the Los Angeles Laker, it makes some sense that he received so many votes from fans, seeing as this season will be his last. People want to see one of the best to ever play the game. After Bryant, the highest votes belong first to Stephen Curry and then to LeBron James. Obviously, there is no surprise with these two; Curry is even better now than his MVP season last year, and LeBron is, well, LeBron.
To fill out the top three forwards in the West, you have Kevin Durant and Blake Griffin, two worthy candidates. The other top guards behind Curry in the West are Russell Westbrook and Chris Paul, who (again) we can’t really complain about. Where the voting process runs into a problem — that has occurred in the past — is in Eastern Conference voting. Behind James, forwards with the highest votes are Paul George and Andre Drummond, two guys who 100% deserve All-Star nods. At guard though, the most votes go to Dwyane Wade (fine).
Next, you have Kyrie Irving with the second highest number of votes in the backcourt. Sure, Irving is a great player, but he just made his season debut a little over a week ago due to an injury during last season’s NBA Finals. How does the league let a player who has barely played receive so many votes for an All-Star appearance? Well, the case of Kyrie Irving isn’t the first of this kind in the history of the All-Star game.
One of the most infamous cases of an undeserving/injured player making it to the All-Star game comes in the form of Yao Ming back in 2011. As a popular, iconic player, Ming was always voted as an All-Star starter during the course of his NBA career. Most of the time, he deserved the honor. However, Ming dealt with nagging foot injuries during the 2010-2011 season, which saw him play in only five games before he was voted in as an All-Star starter.
Of course, Ming was unable to play, and Kevin Love deservedly replaced him on the roster. But Ming’s inclusion in the original starting lineup is indicative of the problem with All-Star voting. Many casual fans vote based on popularity, not based on players’ performances. They recognize the James and Bryants of the world, but aren’t nearly as familiar with Hassan Whiteside or DeMar DeRozan. With that, and the ability to vote as many times as you want, we get Irving (popular due to his association with James and because he’s been great in the past).
Ballot stuffing is a problem across all All-Star games in professional sports. It’s simply what happens when you allow fans to vote a countless number of times. This past summer, the Kansas City Royals almost swept the starting lineup in the MLB All-Star game thanks to ballot stuffing by their fans. In the end, the Royals didn’t get an all-Royal All-Star lineup, but the fact that there was even a discussion of that happening echoes the problem in fan voting.
Obviously, you can’t take away the fans’ ability to vote for the All-Star game. At the end of the day, sports are for the fans, and they deserve to have a say. However, putting statistics more directly in front of the voter may stop them from voting for a name rather than a deserving player. The current ballot layout in the NBA is a little intimidating and overwhelming, which causes many fans to simply search for players they know and vote for them.
In our fast-paced world, it may not matter, but it could be worth exploring, because guys who barely play prior to the All-Star game should not be considered for inclusion in the event. It leaves out deserving players and hurts the image of the league as a whole. Of course, all of this could be moot by the time the final poll comes out in mid-January, but as history proves, the first poll is a great indicator of how the last one will look.