by Dan Salem and Todd Salem (1-31-14)
[Part one - All Star teams collide]
I have to address the more important issue now, Kobe Bryant. His inclusion in the starting lineup of the NBA All-Star game bothers me for myriad of reasons. This is a fan vote of course, but that doesn't mean the fans deserve it.
What is happening here is the NBA is turning into the MLB. Either the game counts or it doesn't. And what I mean is not literally whether who wins the All-Star game matters in basketball like in baseball. But the game acknowledgement does. A player making an All-Star game is historic. It matters for the legacy of a player, as well as the story of the league.
As you pointed out, Kobe's run of All-Star invites will continue. This will mark his 16th selection in his 18-year career. When it comes time to determine Hall of Fame resumes and where a player stands in the pantheon of his sport, All-Star games are often referenced. When next generation's Bill Simmons releases The Book of Basketball Part Two and tries to determine who is the better Laker between Kobe and Magic Johnson, the All-Star game appearances will come up. And you know what? In forty years, no one is going to remember that Kobe's 2014 selection was a joke and a debacle. It will just be an appearance like any of the others.
I guess my problem with the fan vote is that they are too stupid to be given this kind of power. There are only three solutions. Here they are, in order of practicality from "impossible" to "why is this not already the case?!?":
1. Lessen the historical value of a player making an All-Star game. Value All-NBA team selections instead and phase out the worth of the All-Star game appearance itself.
2. Don't let fans vote. Fans are, by definition, biased and crazy.
3. Give the fans a crop of players to vote from for the starting lineups. A player such as Kobe Bryant would not be eligible since he's barely played this season.
Tell me why number three wouldn't work.
I'm glad you acknowledged the ridiculousness of options one and two. There are very few benchmarks to compare players between generations. All Star game appearances is one of the best, disregarding the obvious caveat where a player past his prime continues to get voted in. And we have to let the fans vote. The All Star game is just a show. There is little to no defense played, so it is literally (spoken a la Rob Lowe's character from Parks and Recreation) a fun event for the fans to enjoy. They should get to see who they want, with one caveat that you very nicely addressed in option three.
I really like the idea of giving the fans a specific ballot, but leaving Kobe Bryant off entirely would be a HUGE mistake by the NBA. The All Star voting is international. The NBA wants to grow the sport internationally. Kobe Bryant is the most popular and most famous NBA player internationally. See the problem? He got voted in because the world still loves him and probably doesn't even realize he's been injured, or doesn't care. I know this speaks to a different issue, but the NBA has to market its most popular players and Kobe Bryant is up there in the top three, if not number one.
It would however be easy for the NBA to get the final All Star voting results, look at them and rule that a player must have played in at least 50% of his team's games this season to be a starter. The player can still be on the All Star team, but they can't be considered a starter if they've played less than half of his team's games. This is not a particularly unfair rule and still leaves voting in the hands of the fans. Let them vote in all the hurt guys they want, but they won't be named a starter because they've been injured or suspended.
Did I solve your problem?
That fails to solve the problem of a player's career resume being bumped up by faulty selections. The fact that a player is actually "starting" the game is irrelevant to me. Kobe Bryant did not deserve to be named an All-Star this season. Thus, he should not have been on the ballot if we can't trust fans to actually make that distinction.
This event is not supposed to be a popularity contest. It is supposed to reward the players who are having the best season. Otherwise, Jeremy Lin should just be starting point guard for both teams. Let him switch sides at halftime.