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Stempak: Popularity matters for NBA All-Star selections

| Tuesday, January 24, 2017

With the NBA All-Star starters just released, and the reserves set to be released soon, the annual tradition of critiquing the All-Star voting process is in full swing.

This year is special, as the system changed from solely fan voting to incorporating votes from the media and the players themselves.

The main complaint of the old system, a complaint that carries over into the new system, is that All-Star voting is simply a popularity contest. Fans can just vote for players on their favorite teams, and even countries can flood the internet with votes for their national heroes (as in the case with Zaza Pachulia of the Golden State Warriors, hailing from the nation of Georgia).

Many believe the All-Star Game should have only the best players in the league on the teams, not just the most popular players, even though the two categories often overlap.

An interesting wrinkle to this year’s results is that the players, who were supposed to provide insight and proper voting that the fans did not contribute, were the worst of the three groups in terms of voting for the “best players.”

For example, No. 1-draft pick Ben Simmons received three votes, despite not playing a single minute this year. Ninety-eight different players received a single vote. The players did not appear to take the voting seriously, and that resulted in another year of a broken system.

But I’m not trying to attack the system; I actually liked the old system of fan voting. What needs to change is not the system, but how we think about the All-Star Game.

Again, the complaint is that it is a popularity contest when it should be a game featuring the best players from around the league.

This is my point of contention: maybe it should be a popularity contest. All-Star weekend is a three-day festival celebrating everything great about the NBA. It has a game featuring young and exciting players, a three-point shooting contest and a dunk contest.

The weekend comes to an end with the best All-Star event in major sports. The game features high-scoring, dunks, threes and everyone’s favorite players having a blast playing together. It’s far superior to other sports, such as football, whose Pro Bowl is a watered-down “safe” version of the real sport. With basketball, you take away the defense in the All-Star game, allowing for flashy and free-flowing fun.

And that is what is important: fun. The All-Star weekend is for the fans of the game, so the most popular players should be in it. Quite frankly, popularity is an important and impressive attribute for a player to have in the NBA. The league needs players to expand the fan base, and not everyone has the charisma or exciting playing style to do so. Without popular players, the NBA wouldn’t be nearly as big as it is around the globe now.

Look at Yao Ming, for example. He is an eight-time All-Star, and is the main reason the Chinese Basketball Association, and basketball in China in general, is so popular today. Rewarding players like him and allowing fans to watch him in the All-Star Game gives recognition to Yao for his role in expanding the viewership of the league.

To address the complaint that the All-Star game should showcase the best players: besides the fact that the best players are often the most popular ones, the All-NBA Teams are a means for actually recognizing the best players at the end of the season. These awards give no say to fans and look at the entire season’s body of work before determining the worthy candidates from both conferences.

Making an All-NBA Team is a much more impressive task than the All-Star Team, as there are only 15 players total, rather than 20-28 players selected for each All-Star Game.

The All-Star Game is fun. It’s a celebration of the league as the whole, with events showcasing the most exciting players from the league. It is fine that popular players get in over some better ones. Even if Zaza Pachulia makes it in the game and blocks a spot from someone more deserving, just remember he brought the greatest sport to the minds and hearts of an entire nation.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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About R.J. Stempak

R.J. Stempak is a sophomore computer science major who enjoys basketball.

Contact R.J.