Jeremy Lin: .348 shooting percentage, including .243 from three-point range. And guaranteed All-Star.
Yep, no matter how he performs on the court, Lin is in.
Why? Well, it's not because this year's All-Star Game is being played in Houston.
Lin has become a worldwide phenomenon. Much like former Houston Rocket Yao Ming, Lin will be an All-Star until he retires. Or as in Ming's case, even after he retires.
Being voted an NBA All-Star used to be an honor. Now it's on a par with advancing on The Voice.
How did this happen? And what can we do to restore credibility to the NBA's All-Star voting process?
I'm old enough to remember the process at least seeming more credible. It used to be when you attended an NBA game, they literally passed out ballots.
There was something sacred about being at the game and being given our opportunity to vote. It was as if fans who actually attended games were seen as true students of the game, the anointed ones who could award All-Star berths to those who truly deserved it.
Granted, even then, the electoral process was suspect, and I was proof: To make sure my favorite NBA players made the team, I'd grab a few extra sheets before passing the pile down.
But because being presented with the ballot seemed like a serious affair, I made my selections with a careful judiciousness. Sure, I voted for a couple of my hometown heroes. But I only did it where my hometown heroes were the league's best. And for the other spots, I carefully chose the players who I knew were having great seasons.
And oddly enough, I don't remember undeserving All-Stars back then, except A.C. Green one year (Magic Johnson had left the game because of illness when he was voted in, but because of his situation, awarding him a roster spot seemed like a socially wise choice).
Then, in the early 2000s, the NBA began accepting online All-Star voting. You didn't have to attend a game. You didn't have to leave your home. You didn't even have to live in the United States or Canada. And you certainly didn't have to know a thing about basketball.
It's clear by our selections that we as fans don't.
Fading superstars were selected because of name recognition, like Shaquille O'Neal in 2007 and 2009.
Injured players, like Grant Hill in 2001 (four games played), Alonzo Mourning the same year (no games played) and the aforementioned Ming, who, despite being perpetually injured, was voted in every year.
Jeremy Lin, as likable as he is, is going to be the latest proof that NBA All-Stars are as credible as Lindsay Lohan hosting an AA meeting.
Lin is a shoo-in because getting in is a popularity contest. Mostly because of Yao Ming, the NBA is the most popular sports league in China, and China is the largest market for the NBA outside the United States by a large margin.
The NBA is a business. So methinks it's no coincidence that the season after Ming retired, the Linsanity media barrage began. There's no question that a popular Jeremy Lin will mean more money for the NBA.
To wit: In their All-Star press release, the NBA proudly announced the introduction of voting via social media. They mention Facebook, which I'm sure you're familiar with. They mention Twitter, which I'm sure you're familiar with.
And then immediately after, they mention Sina Weibo and Tencent QQ, which I'm sure you're not familiar with. Unless you happen to live in China.
The two are the Chinese equivalents of our Facebook and Twitter.
If past voting is evidence, fans in China are likely to vote for their favorite player. And because of the size of the Chinese fan base—numbering in the tens of millions—if they're energized to vote for someone, that someone is almost certain to become an All-Star.
Because of the NBA's careful marketing of Lin, it's almost certain he will be that someone. And though fans worldwide have every right to celebrate Lin's accomplishments, he unfortunately has too few accomplishments this season to justify an All-Star selection.
Similarly, fans in Germany will likely vote for Dirk Nowitzki this year, despite his injury and severely limited stats. But their much smaller fan base will not guarantee his selection.
Now don't get me wrong. It's terrific that the NBA is popular worldwide. And maybe its worldwide popularity is because of fans everywhere being able to vote for All-Stars. If so, great work on the NBA's part.
But the point is this: The system is set up to select based on popularity, not merit. And that makes the NBA All-Star game a sham.
The flawed system is not due only to popularity-based international votes. Because our two examples, Lin and Nowitzki, are both popular at home as well, plenty of Americans will vote for them as well, despite their inadequate stats. And they'll vote for many others who have not done what it takes this year to be an All-Star.
Steve Nash might well get voted in. Never mind that he might have only played two games come All-Star time. Had Derrick Rose been on the ballot, we all know he would have been a shoo-in—despite not having played a single second of basketball this season.
Is it right that players who are having career years and have earned the berth be relegated to streetclothes and armchairs, while more popular but statistically unworthy players bask in All-Star glory?
I say no. I say continuing to vote in players simply on the basis of popularity will further tarnish the integrity of a game that can ill afford it.
No sport over the last 15 years has been besmirched by more horrific behavior (Malice at the Palace, two lockouts, LeBron James' self-indulgent "Decision," Tim Donaghy admitting to fixing and betting on games) than the NBA. And no sport's All-Stars are more of a joke.
So what can we do about it?
For starters, we must shorten the voting window. Internet voting may be exciting to the fans, but repeated, obsessive Internet voting just to get your hometown favorite in does nothing but embarrass the game.
In addition, we can spare ourselves the ridiculous Internet campaigns to garner votes. And just as importantly, the short window would allow the NBA to remove from consideration players who succumb to an injury.
Next, All-Star bids should be restricted to players who have appeared in a minimum number of games. This would be another safeguard against injured players being voted in and would bring more attention to eligible players' stats.
The same could apply to the coaches' ballots, since coaches pick the reserves.
But speaking of coaches and of The Voice, perhaps a rule which could make the most difference is something they use on The Voice.
After fan balloting is complete, the coaches would anonymously vote for any players upon whom they feel fans have wrongfully bestowed the honor.
If a player receives, say, 75 percent of coaches' votes, their All-Star votes are declared invalid, and the next highest vote-getter would get in (or coaches could vote for their preferred alternate).
Rescinding a fan-voted All-Star bid may not be the happiest circumstance for a player who gets the rug pulled out from under him, but it's a check and balance that would restore dignity to the title of All-Star.
Personally, I'd rather have qualified professionals (read: coaches) double-checking fans' ballots than fans being allowed to run amok and vote in players who are simply undeserving.
And since the coaches' rescinding vote would be a high margin (again, I propose 75 percent), close calls would not be affected. So fans could still, say, award Tim Duncan a lifetime achievement bid.
But Jeremy Lin wouldn't get in purely because of popularity. And neither would anyone else. And of course, none of this is a knock on Lin, a player who I constantly root for. It's simply a way to make a massively flawed system less flawed.
Judging by the comments I generally receive, you, the reader, are a knowledgeable and insightful NBA fan. What would you rather see: A popularity contest, or a game where only the greatest basketball players of that season are assembled?
I'll ask it metaphorically: Who would you rather see win The Voice? The coolest singer? Or the best singer?
(And if you'd rather not see The Voice at all, just ignore the metaphor...but hopefully you get my point.)
Personally, I believe in getting promotions based on merit, not seniority. I believe in substance over style. I believe in the best man winning.
And I believe only the NBA's finest should be on Houston's Toyota Center floor on Feb. 17.
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