Changing all-star voting isn’t all about reducing fans’ power
In 2009, the NBA was on the verge of “All-Star Gate.” Yi Jianlian was threatening — really threatening — to be an all-star starter in the East. His vote totals were putting him in the mix with the likes of LeBron James and Kevin Garnett. He barely missed making it. The NBA sighed with relief. Had Jianlian, who averaged 8.6 points that season, been an all-star starter, there might have been a mini-revolt. He spent three more seasons in the NBA, and then he was gone. We haven’t seen him or his career average of 7.9 points per game since.
Last week, the NBA slipped in changes to how all-star teams will be selected. There were a few stories noting the changes, but not a lot of fanfare. The old: Fans voted for the starters. Now: All-star starters will be 50 percent fan vote, 25 percent player vote and 25 percent media vote. You think it’s just to cut out ballot-stuffing? That’s only part of it. This isn’t a full-on assault on fans.
The other? Money. More on that shortly.
This is a partial list of players who shouldn’t have been all-star starters:
• Steve Francis in 2004, a year when Sam Cassell was more deserving.
• B.J. Armstrong in 1994. He got more votes than Scottie Pippen on the Michael Jordan-less Bulls. Only Charles Barkley and Shaquille O’Neal racked up more all-star votes. Huh?
• A.C. Green in 1990. He had averages of 13.3 points, 9.0 rebounds and 1.0 assists — and he started ahead of Chris Mullin, David Robinson and Tom Chambers that year.
• In 2014, Kobe Bryant pleaded with fans to not vote for him. He didn’t play in a game until Dec. 8. Then he got hurt. The Lakers were 2-4 in the games he played, he averaged 13.8 points, 4.3 rebounds and 6.3 assists … and he was an all-star starter. With the most votes.
But the bigger issue has to do with contracts. You may have heard of the “designated player extension.” Maybe you haven’t. There are only seven players in the NBA who have contracts under this rule, which allows for the original team to offer more money than even the usual max deals. Each team can have only one. The upshot of it: Players have to meet certain criteria to be eligible for such an extension. Being an all-star starter is one of them.
Can’t leave that up to ballotstuffing. Money is at stake.
So fans must relinquish 50 percent of their power, and live with whoever is on the court. Those players will be deserving, no doubt. And that’s the overall point, to make sure the popularity aspect of it is held to a minimum at best. And, frankly, in that respect, everybody wins.