Kobe Bryant secured his 17th straight starting nod for the West while Dwyane Wade locked down his 10th start for the East in the last 11 seasons, according to Inside the NBA's release of the ballot results for the 2016 NBA All-Star Game in Toronto.
In terms of legacy, these two have ironclad cases for All-Star consideration. And when it comes to the true spirit of the game—to entertain the league's legions of fans—there's no way to keep Bryant and Wade out of the Air Canada Centre on Valentine's Day.
"He deserves it," Kevin Durant, an All-Star starter in his own right, recently told Bleacher Report's Michael Pina of Bryant's prospects. "He’s done so much for the game, and the fans love him. And they’ve been loving him for a long time. So he deserves it, man. It’s his last year. Of course, every year somebody gets snubbed from the All-Star Game. But, you know, this year, they won’t mind seeing Kobe Bryant in there."
Durant could've just as easily said the same of Wade, save for the hint toward retirement.
If the All-Star Game is intended as an interactive basketball exhibition for fans, Bryant and Wade have every business being north of the border on Feb. 14—even at the expense of some inevitable snubs.
But based on this season’s performance, have these two earned their stripes when it comes to 2016’s All-Star showing?
In Bryant's case, his legacy and ongoing All-Star appeal stem from his mimicry—in playing style, temperament and accomplishment—of the G.O.A.T.: Michael Jordan.
Bryant's popularity came as the byproduct of much more than smooth moves and high-flying dunks. He built up equity with basketball fans around the world as a champion—first as the 1A to Shaquille O'Neal's 1 with the three-peat Los Angeles Lakers in the early 2000s, then as the top dog on back-to-back title teams in 2009 and 2010.
You know the game's in such a much better place because Kobe played in the league for 20 years. We appreciate all he's done and we want to keep doing the game justice as we do what we do in our careers. He's a great example, obviously, of what to do on the court, and at least for myself, I want to take that and keep it going.
If Bryant and his five championships put him second all time behind Jordan among shooting guards, Wade and his three rings have a strong case for No. 3 on that list.
Like Bryant, the Marquette product burst onto the scene as a champion and eventual fan favorite next to Shaq before cementing his standing as a beloved superstar with a more modern cast. Wade's partnership with LeBron James and Chris Bosh on the Miami Heat gave the NBA another superteam for some fans to love and others to despise without much room in between.
Through individual brilliance and team success, both Bryant and Wade built up fanbases—and, in this case, voting constituencies—that would be the envy of some presidential candidates.
And since All-Star starters are determined by popularity at the polls, Bryant and Wade earned their latest selections through the outstanding legwork they've each put in for years.
Production: No (Maybe?)
However, if current production had anything to do with it, these two legends would still be shaking the hands and kissing the babies of coaches around the league in search of All-Star votes.
Bryant would have to hit the trail particularly hard. By most measures, the 2015-16 season has been the worst of his 20-year career. His percentages from the field (34.5 percent) and the free-throw line (78.4 percent) are both career lows.
He's also posted the third-worst three-point percentage (25.1 percent) of his career. Likewise, outside of a 2013-14 season stunted by injury, his 16.3-point scoring average would qualify as his lowest since becoming a full-time starter in 1999.
If a player's impact on his team has any bearing on his All-Star standing, Bryant dragging down the 9-35 Lakers might be the most damning exhibit of all against him.
|2015-16 Lakers, With and Without Kobe|
Wade, on the other hand, has played well enough for a winning Heat team to merit some All-Star consideration without such a timely assist from his supporters. His 2015-16 numbers, while modest by his own career standards, are still sturdy for a player at his position in the Eastern Conference.
His effect on Miami, though, hasn't been quite that. As with Bryant's Lakers, Wade's Heat have been better off overall when he's sat compared to when he's played.
|2015-16 Heat, With and Without Dwyane Wade|
Reality: Why Not?
But the fans didn't vote all of the Lakers and all of the Heat into the All-Star Game. Rather, they made their voices heard: They want to see Bryant and Wade battle each other as part of star-studded casts.
Who wouldn't? Bryant holds the career records for field goals (115) and points (280) in All-Star Games, and will surpass Jordan for steals (37) with his next theft.
Wade won't have any such milestones to hit, but he and Bryant are both still capable of the sort of on-court electricity that makes the All-Star Game worth watching.
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And isn't that the point of this? To make a meaningless scrimmage involving basketball's biggest names worth the price of admission for those in Toronto and worth tuning into for millions more at home? To have fun and create lasting basketball memories, like the time Wade busted Bryant's nose?
In this day and age, when ticket prices are skyrocketing and coaches rest their best players with greater regularity, the least the NBA can do is let its audience—the one that's turned the league into a business worth upward of $5 billion—have some say in who plays one night per year.
Even if it means putting the past ahead of the present and future of the NBA.
Josh Martin covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter.