You know how everyone has these conspiracy theories about how Commissioner Stern puppeteers things in the League? I’m never one to totally discount that. By a forceful suggestion, I think dude can make anything happen, on some weak-strong -arm tactics. Something like this needs to happen within the next week when the coaches prepare to vote for the All-Star reserves. Forget ensuring that Chris Paul represent the host city on the court, Stern should be sending every coach a memo mandating that Shaq be voted on as a reserve. And if they don’t comply, he should see to it that they lose their respective jobs, then go over the heads and make it happen himself.
Before I explain why Shaq should be at New Orleans Arena, balling on Feb. 17, let me get at my All-Star picks for ‘08. This is how the team would look, if fans and coaches knew what was what…
WESTERN CONFERENCE STARTERS
Yao Ming, Rockets: I have no problem with Yao starting. He’s the best, most complete center in the league.
Tim Duncan, Spurs: No explanation needed, right? Still, Charles Barkley referred to him as the Greatest Power Forward of All Time on TNT’s pre-game show. That is, perhaps, the most profound compliment I’ve ever heard given from one player to another. There are only two positions with iron-clad Greatest — shooting guard and point guard. No sane man will argue against Jordan or Magic’s perches atop their respective positions. But the front court positions are up for grabs. Is it Bird or The Doctor? Is it Barkley or The Mailman? Is it Russ or The Stilt? But yesterday, a man that many will argue is the greatest to ever hold down the four-spot, came out his mouth and said that Duncan was the greatest of them all. That’s some validation, right there.
Carmelo Anthony, Nuggets: I could go a number of different ways here. But when you look at what makes an All-Star — performance, popularity and potential entertainment value — Melo is my pick at the second spot. Doesn’t hurt that dude is having his best season. I’m particularly encouraged by the increased board-work.
Kobe Bryant, Lakers: My early season choice for MVP. He had an Old Kobe game against the Spurs in the second half of Wednesday night’s game, but dude is playing a more subtle, nuanced, understated game this season, for the most part. He’s still, hands down, the illest doing it. Eff what you heard. And I love how his rep has been rehabilitated with the fans.
Allen Iverson Chris Paul, Hornets: Paul is the best point guard in the league. Here’s my test: If you add Chris to the Suns, I truly believe they’d be a better team, given that Chris is, at least, on Nash’s level as a distributor and orchestrator; and he’s an infinitely better defender. Plus, he has swag to spare. Add Nash to the Hornets and they’re soft and harmless. No sacrilege here, these are just the facts.
Amare Stoudemire, Suns: I hear and read a lot of so-called experts getting cute with the Tyson Chandler and Marcus Camby rhetoric. Spare me. Those dudes are incredibly commendable players that perform all of the yeomen tasks with aplomb and an admirable selflessness. But them cats are not snatching a spot on the 2008 All-Star Team in THIS Western Conference.
Dirk Nowitzki, Mavericks: I kinda wanna leave him off, because he’s such a pansy and nancy and spongebob. But he’s still producing and he manned-up out of that early season funk. He deserves to be in New Orleans, I can’t front on that. But, if I had my druthers, during one of the pre-game locker room shots, we’d see one of the ball boys giving him a wedgy or mushing him in the face with Yao’s jock strap.
Stephen Jackson, Warriors: Every season, writers and analysts find their own little pet-player that is somewhat deserving — but has no chance to make the All-Star squad — and they get on a trite, pandering, totally see-through soapbox that makes my brain hurt. That’s not what this is. Jax is not only productive, but impactful. There are less than a handful of players that are more important to their squad’s success. Not to mention, he’s he perfect candidate to enter the game and start balling like it’s NOT the All-Star game. I’m talkin’ hard fouls, and intense displays of over-zealousness.
Allen Iverson, Nuggets: In case you haven’t noticed, Iverson is close to irrelevancy. His 27 points per game are completely underwhelming. It’s been so long since his performances mattered in big games (early in the millennium) that you forget how transcendent he used to be. With all that said, he gets a Lifetime Pass to All-Star games.
Steve Nash, Suns: There should not be a minute that passes where he or Chris Paul are not on the court.
Baron Davis, Warriors: Top Five point guards list AT THIS MOMENT goes like this — 1.) Chris Paul; 2.) Steve Nash; 3.) Baron Davis; 4.) Jason Kidd; 5.) Chauncey Billups. Baron doesn’t get enough credit for what he does with that Warriors squad. In a nutshell, he orchestrates chaos. That offense is fundamentally and naturally entropic. Baron keeps the chaos from happening. It’s amazing to watch.
Brandon Roy, Trailblazers: I wanted to snub the young boy on some initiation type biz, but his play has been irreproachable. But watch the Parker/Ginobli slobbers find a way to snub this cat.
EASTERN CONFERENCE STARTERS
Dwight Howard, Magic: Even though I have problems with Howard’s game, there’s no doubting he should be representing the East in New Orleans. And, quiet as kept, I’m interested to see what he has planned for the Dunk Contest.
Kevin Garnett, Celtics: Least productive year, since his young days. Doesn’t matter, though. He embodies everything this game is about and his decreased production is more than balanced by the intangible, abstract impression he’s made on the squad with best record and highest profile in the NBA.
LeBron James, Cavs: I’m still a staunch believer that last year’s Cavs squad might be the worst team to appear in a championship series or game in any of the professional leagues. They appeared in the series because Bron’s games 3, 4, 5 and 6 were epic. The ridiculous thing about this season is that LeBron is playing like a “Games 3-6 LeBron” throughout this whole season.
Jason Kidd, Nets: He’s nearly averaging a triple-double. I wish he were doing this for a team that actually mattered on the NBA landscape.
Dwyane Wade Chauncey Billups, Pistons: He’s playing the best ball, of any guard in the Eastern Conference. He’s also what I like to call a “grown-up point guard.” He’s not necessarily the most profound creator and doesn’t have the greatest vision, but he is the embodiment and archetype of the new-age “lead guard” that evolved as Zeke’s career was coming to a close and Tim Hardaway was entering his prime. My dude Tony always says that, if Gilbert Arenas studied the way Chauncey suppresses his shoot-first tendencies to run the Pistons’ attack, the Wizards could be contenders.
Chris Bosh, Raptors: I don’t care how many You-Tube videos he makes, I think Bosh is one of those cats that won’t start many All-Star Game during his career. Still, this should be one of probably nine or ten All-Star appearances in-a-row.
Paul Pierce, Celtics: This is my dude. I can’t wait ‘til he gets to showout on the grand stages in late-May and early-June.
Caron Butler, Wizards: Nah, actually, Tough Juice is my dude, my main dude. People wonder why the Wizards are playing so well without Gil, specifically as a better defensive team…it’s because the team has taken on Caron’s personality. Have you seen the way he deebos cats on offense and defense. He’s like a well-meaning hoodlum on the court. If KG or Bron get hurt, Holy Caron should start.
Antawn Jamison, Wizards: If Tough Juice is the Wiz’ most dominant personality, Jamison is the leader. The two roles are not mutually exclusive and each are equally responsible for success or failure. And the 21 and 10 he ekes out every night is amazing. Have you seen this dude ball? He’s practically immobile. He moves like Tucker from There’s Something About Mary. He’s just 6-9, with a pedestrian frame. Yet, he puts in absolute work and he’s easily one of the five or six smartest players in the League.
Dwyane Wade, Heat: I’m punishing dude. I mean, you just CANNOT let your squad lose that many games in-a-row. It’s despicable. I mean, he needs to do a “Kobe 81” or “LeBron Game 5” — straight up. This can’t continue. Still, there’s no All-Star Game without DWade reppin’.
Josh Smith, Hawks: Does every know the kind of numbers this kid is pumping out this season? In case you’re not hip, check ‘em: 18 ppg, 8 rpg, 4 apg, 3 bpg, 2 spg. He might be the most unique player in the League, seriously. The kicker is that he’s not just stuffing the stat sheet for some wack squad that spends half the game getting blitzed in veritable garbage-time. Atlanta is just four games under .500 and sitting at No. 7 in the East. And lest we forget that Josh would give us at least 23 eye-poppers throughout the game, if he were in New Orleans. Don’t you want to see him filling a lane with JKidd running the break?! The coaches better not eff this one up.
SHAQUILLE O’NEAL, HEAT: Did you know that Kareem played in the 1988 All-Star Game? Sure, the Lakers were defending champs and on their way to a repeat, but Kareem had lost minutes to a younger Mychal Thompson and was averaging just 10 ppg. The coaches voted him on out of RESPECT. Did you know that Bird, Magic, The Doctor and MJ made the All-Star Team in each of their final seasons, with Bird, Doc and MJ being shells of their legendary selves? Shaq is THAT dude. He’s the kind of player that has done enough in and for the League to warrant an invite to the All-Star Game unless he’s incapacitated or playing like a 2002 Pat Ewing. Forget Ewing, forget David Robinson, even forget Hakeem. Shaq is a Mount Rushmore Dude. Not because he won three straight championships, but because he was and, essentially, still is a larger than life figure that has had such an impact and indelible impression on the game that the NBA is indebted to him. Shaq changed the game. Because of Shaq, dudes like Duncan were power forwards. Teams made trades to matchup with Shaq. Shaq is still, arguably, the most recognizable star in the League. Shaq, as a cliché, is The Man. So he’s just averaging 14, 8 and 2 and he’s fouling out of games and falling like a geriatric every time someone fouls him — that’s all un-All-Star. But Shaq is still a serviceable player, better than every center in the league besides the really good ones (Yao, Howard, Bynum, Stoudemire). And it’s the East! Who cares if we snub Richard Jefferson or Rip Hamilton. Forget them. How can Shaq NOT be in New Orleans, putting in a huffy-puffy 10 minutes, where he attempts an awkward crossover, heaves a long-distance brick at the rim and throws it down one good and LAST time?! This might be Shaq’s swan song and we need to honor that. If he comes back next year, we need to honor him again. In a few Sundays, I wanna see Shaq sprawled out on the East bench during the fourth quarter, with one arm around KG, the other around Kidd, nut-rolling, enjoying his status as the League’s preeminent ambassador and the defining athlete of his generation. Make it happen.
Vincent Thomas is a columnist for SLAMonline and a frequent contributer to SLAM Magazine. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.