Flaw In The System


by Daniel Buerge / @danielbuergeLA

The NBA All-Star Game is an interesting thing. It’s supposed to be a weekend determined by and dedicated to the NBA’s fans. And, in theory, that’s exactly what it is. Fans have control over much of the festivities, including selecting the starting lineups for both teams, and even get to select who they believe is the MVP of the game itself. Fans also get the chance to vote in Saturday night’s festivities, with the Slam Dunk Contest one of the biggest events that puts the fans in control. This gives everybody the chance to feel like their opinions are not only heard, but counted, giving them partial control of the action.

The idea is strong, and makes sense. The execution of said idea, not quite as strong. 

Now, there will always be problems when it comes to voting—no matter who’s doing it. Just look at the Major League Baseball Hall of Fame situation. Those are all professional baseball writers determining who is and who is not enshrined in Cooperstown. But, even those who cover the sport for a living can’t seem to get on the same page or put together some kind of universal guidelines to determine who receives votes and who doesn’t.

So if a group of legitimate sportswriters and journalists from around the country can’t successfully get a voting system right, what chance do fans have?

The answer? Not much.

It’s been recognized for years that the voting system in the NBA for the All-Star Game is flawed due to fan voting. It becomes more of a popularity contest than a bipartisan vote, which is what the League should want. But the argument for the fan vote is that it’s an exhibition game with nothing more on the line than some Sunday night glory in the middle of February—so who’s it really hurting?

That’s where we run into a problem. Sure, the outcome of the game itself might not matter, but for the players looking to put together a strong, post-career Hall of Fame resume, it means everything. The next time the NBA (or any sport for that matter) is getting ready to elect a new Hall of Fame class, look at the list of accolades included on each player’s resume. On every single one you will see the number of All-Star Game selections. Every one. Without fail. Because that’s an enormous reference point used by Hall of Fame voters to help determine whether or not a player is Hall of Fame worthy. But since those All-Star selections are made by the fans, isn’t that a little contradictory? And a little concerning?

So this brings me to my next point, which is the situation unfolding this season with Kobe Bryant. The Lakers’ guard has played six games this season out of a possible 42. That’s approximately one-seventh of his team’s games so far in 2013-14. So, even if he was playing at an extraordinary level during those six games (he wasn’t), he doesn’t have nearly enough on this season’s resume to apply for the game.

But, due to his popularity in Los Angeles and the rest of the world, he’s leading the Western Conference in fan votes, and as of Monday night, when the ballots closed for the fans, he will almost certainly be listed as a starter for this year’s game.

After playing six games. Six. 

Are you beginning to see why the system might be a little bit flawed?

Now, to Bryant’s credit, he’s done a great job of speaking out on the issue and stating that he believes fans should vote for some of the League’s younger stars, with Portland’s Damian Lillard being an example of who he would like to see in the game.

“My advice would be to vote for some of these younger players,” Bryant said back in early January. “The Damian Lillards of the world, because they’re more deserving to be out there and play during that weekend.”

And, when given the chance in Chicago on Monday night, Bryant once again told reporters that the young guns deserve to play.

“I’ve always looked forward toward playing in All-Star games and that’s something that’s a huge honor,” Bryant said. “I haven’t played [much] this year. Some of the younger guys that have been performing, doing extremely well and are All-Star worthy should be the ones out there playing.”

But, Bryant didn’t say he wouldn’t play. He said (almost) all the right things, except the one that matters the most. That he absolutely will not play in the All-Star Game.

Because he shouldn’t. Because he doesn’t deserve it this season. And that’s not an insult to say, not even close. It doesn’t change his legacy at all. What it does, is give an up-and-coming player, maybe a guy who is still trying to build that Hall of Fame legacy, a chance to add another notch to his resume. To build his reputation and begin to cement a legacy of his own. 

The All-Star voting system is flawed, and there’s no easy fix. Baseball has proven that professionals can’t get it right (even though that’s the Hall of Fame rather than the All-Star Game, but baseball fans mess up All-Star votes, too), and the NBA has proven that fans can’t get it right either. 

The bottom line remains that if the All-Star Game is still something that’s going to be valued when you look back on the career of a certain player and try to gauge where he stands in the historical spectrum of all the guys that came before and after him, there needs to be a tougher filter to get them into the game. It needs to matter a little bit more. 

So while some fans will clamor that Bryant deserves the appearance due to his 18 years of NBA service, please remember that he’s already received that. He’s been an All-Star 15 times. All of which were deserved. This isn’t a lifetime achievement award, it’s an honor that should go to the players that have performed at the highest level THIS season. Not over the last two decades. 

There’s no quick fix to the system, and the NBA likely isn’t changing their voting process anytime soon. Fans love to vote and the NBA loves to keep fans happy, so it’s likely not going anywhere. But this is a great opportunity for Kobe to make a point himself, to help realize that there is a foundational crack in this process that should not be overlooked.

Do the right thing, Kobe. Accept the praise and popularity that you have, and embrace all the fans around the world that love you so much they’ll vote for you regardless of how many games you’ve played.

But decline the All-Star invitation. And do it soon.