If fan voting for the 2013 NBA All-Star Game were to end today, Chris Paul would start next to Kobe Bryant for the Western Conference in Houston on February 17th. That's no surprise, considering Paul has been honored to do so in each of the last two seasons.
This time, though, it's close. Perhaps even too close.
Jeremy Lin is gaining fast, and if the Houston Rockets newcomer supplants CP3 by the time the polls close, it may be time to reconsider the value of fan voting as an influence on All-Star weekend.
The NBA revealed on Thursday that Paul's lead over Lin had narrowed to just over 55,000 votes—353,603 for CP3 compared to 298,319 for Linsanity.
That total leaves Lin ahead of James Harden, Russell Westbrook and Tony Parker, all deserving All-Stars.
Paul's current edge is certainly well-deserved. He's widely regarded as the best point guard out West—if not on the planet Earth—and has the stats (16.3 points, 9.1 assists, 3.5 rebounds, 2.6 steals) to back it up.
Meanwhile, his Los Angeles Clippers are flying high at 16-6, winning their last eight games in a row to move within two-and-a-half games of the top spot in the West.
Lin, on the other hand, would be hard-pressed to work his way into any conversation regarding the top players at his position in his own conference. His numbers at this juncture (11.3 points on 39.9 percent shooting, 6.1 assists, 4.2 rebounds, 1.8 steals) are far closer to average than to All-Star-worthy.
As is his team.
The Rockets are a ho-hum 10-11 through their first 21 games and employ at least two other players (Harden and Omer Asik) who are more deserving of All-Star honors than Lin.
But, of course, the NBA All-Star Game is a popularity contest more than anything. Fans don't determine the makeup of the rosters entirely, but they do dictate who gets to start.
And it's not just up to those in North America. The NBA is as global a professional sports league as there is in the world today and has the diverse viewership to show for its expansive efforts. According to Alex Kennedy of Hoopsworld, last year's All-Star Game was broadcast in 215 countries and territories in 47 different languages.
Many of the NBA's global fans live in East Asia, where Lin—the first player of Taiwanese-American descent in the NBA—is immensely popular. With the NBA expanding and encouraging the All-Star franchise to and in all places and across all platforms, it only figures that Lin would reap the rewards of his global appeal.
Not unlike Yao Ming, who was elected an All-Star on eight straight occasions (and twice when he wasn't even physically able to participate).
Certainly, fans, for all their follies, should have some say in the process. The All-Star Game is nothing if not a showcase of the best basketball players in the world for those who follow and enjoy the NBA. This isn't Major League Baseball, wherein the whims of the masses can affect the outcome of the World Series.
The NBA, as an entity that wants people to tune in for its productions, also has an incentive (if not an obligation) to cater to the wishes of its viewing audience. The All-Star Game is pure spectacle, with an outcome that has no meaningful connection to the season that it punctuates.
If the league wants the world to spend a Sunday in February watching grown men play a child's game as if they're on a playground, they'd better make sure the stars partaking are worth the draw.
But there is something at stake for the players beyond bragging rights and a tiring weekend replete with media obligations. Players are awarded bonuses for representing their respective squads in the All-Star showcase. Some even have clauses in their contracts that are triggered by such midseason trips.
If Lin is chosen, his spot will likely come at the expense of a peer whose own performance (and that of his team) are more reflective of an All-Star. Surely, the coaches will have to find room for Kobe, Paul, Westbrook, Harden and Parker, whether Lin is boosted in by the fans or not.
Those six would already constitute half of the seats on the Western Conference bench. And that's without considering the frontcourt choices—Kevin Durant, Blake Griffin and Dwight Howard by vote; Tim Duncan, Kevin Love and Zach Randolph/Marc Gasol by coach's choice.
Which leaves the likes of Stephen Curry, O.J. Mayo and rookie Damian Lillard—all of whom have put up better numbers than Lin for teams of equal or greater quality—on the outside looking in, without the extra dough or so much as an opportunity for a word edgewise.
There's no need to weep for millionaires missing out on extra cheddar, of course, but the point remains that there are consequences for the collective action of fans.
Would Jeremy Lin deserve to start the All-Star Game?
In truth, there's no point in getting too worked up about the possibility of Lin as an All-Star starter. After all, he's a fan favorite, he plays for the host team and, again, the game itself is meaningless and borderline unwatchable, at least until the final five minutes.
And, for now, Chris Paul has a bead on the starting spot and may well hang onto it as thousands upon thousands of ballots continue to roll in.
Still, if there's any cosmic justice in the basketball world, CP3 won't have to worry about losing an honor to a flash-in-the-pan, the fans won't have to worry about embarrassing themselves, and the league and the NBA won't have to worry about enabling them to do so.