Welcome to another edition of The Friday Five! This is a new feature that comes your way every Friday, discussing five items of interest in list or countdown format, with topics covering basketball video games, the real NBA and other subjects that are relevant to our community.
With the NBA’s announcement of the starters for the 2013 NBA All-Star Game in Houston, reactions to the selections naturally raise questions about the concept of fan voting. Some fans don’t see a problem with it, while others don’t think it’s the right approach at all. For my part, I’m still in favour of fans being able to select the starting lineups and as such, here are five arguments in defense of fan voting for the All-Star Game.
1. The All-Star Game is a showcase for the fans
Yes, in theory All-Star selections are meant to be an honour, recognition of outstanding play and a noteworthy career achievement for an NBA player. One could brand it as the “ultimate pick-up game”, the best proving ground outside of the Playoffs for a player who wants to establish themselves as a star amongst stars.
However, it’s also an exhibition for the fans, ultimate fantasy teams come to life in a premier exhibition of NBA talent. True, many of us would prefer if there was a little more defense and competitiveness throughout the game, something that has fallen by the wayside over the years, but if the game is close heading into the fourth quarter we’re usually treated to some really entertaining basketball, with the best of the best strutting their stuff.
Since it’s a game for the fans, it makes sense for there to be some fan involvement. Selecting the entire team would be a little much, but giving fans the opportunity to get their favourite players or the players they want to see into the game, even for just a few minutes, is hardly inappropriate. This doesn’t have to mean the most deserving players are snubbed either, because…
2. The best players also tend to be the most popular players
All-Star voting is often derided as being nothing but a popularity contest, and there’s merit to that point of view. However, it isn’t really a huge problem as the best players in the league are generally also among the most popular players as well. Therefore, it’s a popularity contest that is still going to yield selections that are worthy All-Stars, more often than not.
Despite several tongue-in-cheek campaigns to get scrubs voted into the game over the years, it’s yet to happen. There have been players whose popularity has earned them a starting nod over others that were probably more deserving of the honour that particular year, but they don’t form a majority of the starting lineups year-to-year and few of them could be deemed not to be stars in their own right.
When it comes down to it, popularity isn’t making a huge mockery of the All-Star selections. Examples of players receiving too many votes that they don’t deserve would include Yao Ming in years gone by and Jeremy Lin this year, though Yao did have justifiable selections before injuries derailed his career and Lin ultimately lost out to Chris Paul, the better (and more popular) player.
Also consider the top two vote-getters this year: Kobe Bryant and LeBron James. Two extremely popular players, yes, but also two of the most widely disliked players in the league. When it comes down to it though, they get votes because fans recognise their performance and want to see them in action. Fans will vote for their favourite players, but they’ll also vote for players who have most definitely earned a spot on the All-Star team.
3. Usually at least 75% of the players are “All-Star Worthy”
I’ll admit I’m playing fast and loose with numbers here, but glancing back at previous All-Star games, I’d generally say at least 18 of the 24 players in any given year are worthy selections and difficult, if not outright impossible, to strike off the roster in favour of someone else.
I’d also suggest that in most years, that figure is probably around 20 and in the years where there are a higher number of iffy selections, at least two or three of those players were picked as injury replacements. When you see a Chris Gatling in the All-Star game boxscores – a solid role player but not an All-Star calibre talent posting All-NBA type numbers – you know that some bigger names were unable to participate.
As far as the starters are concerned, they make up just ten of the 24 players participating in the game. More often than not, I would suggest that at least eight of those players have a legitimate case for making the team and in most cases, being the starter as well. When it comes to the iffier selections, either an argument can usually still be made in their favour or an injured player had to be replaced, throwing votes and ideal selections out the window.
But say that’s not accurate enough. What other method would ensure that barring injury replacements, everyone selected for an All-Star team deserves to be there? The popular suggestion is to let the coaches pick the entire squads, but as we’ve seen in the past…
4. The coaches don’t always get it right either
A fan’s criteria when casting their vote isn’t always going to be sound, but as mentioned before the best players in the league tend to be the most popular or get the votes anyway, so generally speaking nearly every starter has a legitimate case for their selection…most of the time.
The thing is, the criterion employed by coaches in their selections isn’t necessarily better. In fact, sometimes they’re even further off the mark. We’ve seen top teams who should really only have one or two representatives at the game end up sending three or four players, snubbing players who are having All-Star worthy seasons but are on teams that aren’t doing quite as well.
Similarly, players who deserve the recognition have been overlooked in favour of workhorse players who are important to their team and popular with coaches, but not necessarily as deserving of an All-Star nod. We’ve seen some truly head scratching selections by the coaches over the years, so suffice to say they are no more infallible than us fans when it comes to putting together two squads comprised of the best 24 players in the league.
5. Who else do you get to make the selections?
If we’re eliminating fan voting and the coaches are out because they can’t get it right either, who do we turn to next?
David Stern, or as of 2014, Adam Silver? Somehow, I don’t think that would be a popular idea, given how many fans seem to feel that the league is already rigged in some way or despair of the way it markets its stars. If an injury replacement needs to be quickly named then it makes sense for the commissioner to take care of the matter, as is the current procedure. But selecting the entire team? I think a lot of people would find that to be a bit on the nose.
What about the sports media then? I’d suggest that solution would draw a similar amount of scorn, considering the reactions to some of the yearly award winners. The media has a bad reputation for handing out the awards based on what makes the best story and while it wouldn’t be fair to say that every award winner is undeserving of the accolade they receive, the media’s reputation isn’t undeserved either. There are certainly examples of worthier candidates being snubbed because the media members voting on the awards felt like it was time for a different story and I imagine the same problems would plague All-Star selections if they were placed in the media’s hands.
How about the players themselves? They’re the ones playing the sport, they should be able to nominate the best of their peers and most fans would probably be more accepting of their choices. But as Bill Simmons notes in The Book of Basketball when discussing the possibility of players selecting the Most Valuable Player award (as they originally did), this would only really work if all players can put aside their differences and be completely impartial critics. Even assuming that were possible, would they make the right selection 100% of the time, or at least with greater accuracy than any other proposed method? Possibly, but probably not.
That of course brings us right back to the approach of the fans picking the starters they want to see in a game that’s for their entertainment, with the coaches picking the reserves. In a year with few major injuries, that usually means nearly all of the players who are selected have a legitimate case to be there. For a system that’s supposedly inappropriate or broken, to me the alternatives offer no greater certainty and it tends to work out just fine for the most part. Fan voting in the Dunk Contest, on the other hand? Yeah, you can absolutely scrap that, but that’s a topic for another time.
That’ll do it for this week’s Friday Five, thanks for checking it out. If you agree with me, please post any other arguments in favour of fan voting for the All-Star Game or if you disagree, feel free to post the reasons why you’d like to see fan voting end! Either way, have your say in the comments below and don’t forget you can discuss the All-Star starters here in the NLSC Forum. I’ll be back next Friday with another Five.