The NBA All-Star Game Is a Popularity Contest, and That's Okay

Writer: Caleb Akpan

When the second returns for the 2019 NBA All-Star Game came in last Thursday, there was a solid amount of uproar with the results. To many fans, the voting was an insult to those who have truly succeeded this season, but they fail to realize that success isn’t necessarily what the All-Star game is about, especially when it comes to the starters. It’s a popularity contest, and under that lens, the latest results are exactly correct.

For rookie Luka Doncic, there’s a slight statistical argument for his inclusion, as he currently stands second among Western Conference players. His averages as a teenager have not been seen since the likes of LeBron James. In terms of popularity, his three biggest highlights on Youtube have compiled nearly five million views in just the last month. LeBron James has just 3.4 million views in his most recent highlights, excluding a video featuring Twitch streamer Ninja. Doncic is also a European player, who generates support from overseas in addition to American fans, the main factor for the last time a rookie started in the All-Star Game with Yao Ming.

When it comes to Derrick Rose (2nd in Western Conference backcourt votes), despite James Harden’s MVP-caliber run of late, the 2011 MVP’s play has reason to be celebrated. After injuries almost ended his NBA career, the point guard is a legitimate Most Improved and Sixth Man candidate, averaging his best numbers since 2012, the last season he was an All-Star. There’s definitely a feel-good element to the votes Rose is getting, and his fanbase is also bigger than Harden’s, with a ton of support coming from the Chinese market.

Then there’s Dwyane Wade, who’s already announced his retirement effective at the end of this season, about all you need to know in relation to his votes. His competition for the second East guard spot? Kemba Walker, Ben Simmons, and Victor Oladipo. Those three players combined might not have a fanbase equal to Wade’s, who outdates them all by at least eight years in the league and has multiple championships to their five playoff appearances combined. Legacy awards are huge in sports and the All-Star Game is a perfect time to give them out, fans are simply trying to thank Wade for all that he’s brought to the league.

To some, the most offensive results came in the form of inactive players receiving more votes than those who have played and played well. DeMarcus Cousins received more votes than a player like Tobias Harris despite not playing a game all season. Goran Dragic has played 14 games all year but held more votes than Washington’s Bradley Beal, one of the league’s best scorers. The thing those two have over their healthy counterparts: fanbases. Cousins was considered one of the best players in the league when healthy and Dragic is one of the most popular European players. Compare to Harris and Beal, who are far from household names despite being their team’s best players and you see exactly why they’re below.

Fanbases are really the key to all of the voting discrepancies, but they also help to make the All-Star Game fun and entertaining, which is all the league wants. Afraid your favorite player won’t make it even though they deserve it? There’s probably little reason to worry, as the league has implemented rules that split the fan vote equally with votes from the players and media. And even if your favorite player doesn't make it, it’s not the end of the world. There’s always All-Star snubs and if they’re good enough, their time will come. Until then, let the NBA All-Star Game serve its purpose as a showcase of the league’s most popular and well-received.