The fourth and final returns for the 2009 NBA All-Star teams voting, before the final tally on January 19, came in last week. In every year since the NBA began allowing the fans to vote for the starters, there have been many qualms with the fans’ decisions, and this year is no different. However, critical outrage of the voting process took new heights upon the arrival of Yao Ming in the 2002-03 season. As fan voting is open to the entire world, an enormous contingent of Chinese voters voted in Yao Ming as the starting center of the West squad over a clearly superior Shaquille O’Neal in 2003. Luckily, Yao has advanced his game to the point where he truly is the best center in the Western Conference. Still, self-aggrandizing fans (yes, like myself) continue to decry China as the main culprit in the degeneration of All-Star rosters and the posterchild of why fan voting doesn’t work.
Yet to focus on China is to ignore the all-encompassing idiocy that permeates All-Star voting. In 2005, fans voted Vince Carter a starter despite his averaging at the time a career-low 15.9 PPG in a ploy to get traded out of Toronto. In 2006, Amare Stoudemire (pre-putting-the-apostrophe-in-his-first-name days), received over 270,000 votes despite not having played a single game the entire year and being months away from a healthy return. Neither of these mockeries had anything to do with Chinese voters. China isn’t ruining All-Star voting; it’s the very concept of fan voting itself that is flawed.
However, to say China is in the clear would also be a lie. There are several travesties in the latest voting results, and at least a couple can be attributed to Chinese voting. Here is a list of the five worst travesties in fan voting this year by order of most awful.
- Travesty: Tracy McGrady (1,216,224 votes) is a starter in the West.
The biggest problem with Chinese voting is not with Yao. Ever since McGrady was traded to the Houston Rockets in 2004, the then-exciting swingman has become one of the most popular NBA players in China with jersey sales there consistently outselling Yao himself. Yet while Yao has developed into one of the most dominant centers in the league, the Artist Formerly Known as T-Mac has deteriorated into a jump-shooting, injury-riddled shell of a star. T-Pain is averaging a nine-year low 15.4 PPG while shooting a career-low and just plain god-awful 38.8% from the field. Unfortunately, no one in China seems to have noticed. Hopefully, T-Pain will still be out on his injury/conditioning sabbatical during the All-Star game, and Chris Paul will take his rightful place alongside Kobe Bryant, opening up T-Pain's roster spot for a far more worthy candidate.
- Travesty: Yi Jianlian (1,216,348) is only 159,466 votes away from taking a starting spot away from Kevin Garnett.
Here is a guy who has absolutely no business being in the All-Star game. Yet, as the only other Chinese basketball player of any merit in the NBA, Chinese voters have made a formidable effort to push this ten-point six-rebound guy shooting 40.3% from the field with a broken pinkie into the realm of All-Stars. His vote count is 464,421 ahead of Chris Bosh (23.4/9.8/2.5 in anchoring the Raptors), 729,692 ahead of Paul Pierce (19.5/5.7/3.7 for the 32-9 Celtics), and a whopping 1,017,148 ahead of Danny Granger (more on him later). Although I doubt Yi will catch up to Garnett, and the world will be safe for one more year, who knows where this trend will lead in the future.
- Travesty: Gilbert Arenas (403,577) has any votes at all.
Culprit: General Idiocy
This is even worse than Amar’e getting 270,000+ votes in 2006. At least Amar’e had a phenomenal 2004-05 season. Notwithstanding the brief and ineffective 13-game regular season and four-loss playoff series in which he appeared last year, Gilbert Arenas has basically been on vacation from basketball for a year and a half. Is he getting over 400,000 votes based solely on his blogging? He has 166,584 votes over Joe Johnson (who is dropping 22.0/4.5/6.1 while leading a resurgent 22-15 Hawks team) based on reputation alone.
- Travesty: Danny Granger (199,200), where’s the love for this guy?
Culprit: Being on a small market team
There are many players suffering from preposterously low vote counts despite having excellent seasons like Jason Terry (323,279), Brandon Roy (267,053), Marcus Camby (74,638), Kevin Durant (not in top 11 at position), and Chauncey Billups (not in top 11 at position). To add to the insult, Rafer Alston (372,130) has more votes than any of these players (once again, thank Chinese Rockets fans). One of the most egregious examples, if not the most, must be Danny Granger, who is posting a mind-boggling per-game line of 26.5 points, 5.0 rebounds, 3.5 assists, 1.0 steals, and 1.4 blocks while hitting 2.7 threes and shooting 46.0% from the field and 86.5% from the line. If those aren’t All-Star credentials, then David Stern isn’t a short, Jewish man. Though Granger’s Pacers are only 13-25, they have distinguished themselves by being the only team so far this season to beat both the Boston Celtics and the Los Angeles Lakers. Of course, playing in Indiana never helps anyone’s cause. With a grand total of zero nationally televised Indiana Pacers games this season, it’s easy to miss out on the genius that is Granger.
- Travesty: Samuel Dalembert (257,527) is the second-highest vote-getter for center in the East.
Culprit: Huge number of Haitian Internet users?
I wanted to attribute this to general idiocy, but I can’t find even any faulty logic by which fans could be voting for Dalembert. His best season was last year when he averaged 10.5/10.4 for the wildly disregarded Philadelphia 76ers, and this year he’s taking a 5.6/8.0 dump. Fortunately, he has no chance of catching up to Dwight Howard, and the coaches should vote the dominant Cavs’s Zydrunas Ilgauskas into the game as Howard’s back-up.
|It's okay; I know you didn't vote for me...you Nazi.|
That’s only the tip of the iceberg. With so many complaints every year, one would think that All-Star fan voting should end altogether. Certainly many of those self-aggrandizing fans and critics I mentioned before would love to see that. Yet the All-Star game is for the fans, and the fans deserve to have a say in whom they get to see in the game. However, there is no doubt that players getting voted in by reputation or national heritage both reduces the quality of the game and absolutely kills diehard NBA fans. Thus, I propose a solution based on two principles: parity and expertise.
Parity … by Region
The first part of the solution addresses the China problem. An estimated 300 million Chinese are basketball fans, equal to the entire population of the United States. That’s not to say all 300 million are pouring in their All-Star votes or even watching the NBA, but – with the inanely high tallies for Chinese or Rockets-affiliated players like Yi, T-Pain, and Rafer – an inordinately high number seem to be.
This part of the solution limits the influence of the foreign vote. Instead of saying a vote is a vote is a vote, we’ll split the United States into five regions and make the rest of the world into a sixth region.
Region A: Pacific
Composed of: 7 states, 4 territories (in the Pacific)
Population (as of July 1, 2008): 58,594,529
NBA Teams Represented: Los Angeles Lakers, Los Angeles Clippers, Sacramento Kings, Golden State Warriors, Phoenix Suns, Portland Trailblazers,
Region B: Central
Composed of: 14 states
NBA Teams Represented: Minnesota Timberwolves, Milwaukee Bucks, Chicago Bulls, Indiana Pacers, Detroit Pistons, Cleveland Cavaliers
Region C: Southwest
Composed of: 10 states, 1 territory (Puerto Rico)
NBA Teams Represented: Denver Nuggets, Utah Jazz, Oklahoma City Thunder, Houston Rockets, Dallas Mavericks, San Antonio Spurs, New Orleans Hornets
Region D: Northeast
Composed of: 11 states, 1 district (of Columbia)
NBA Teams Represented: Boston Celtics, New York Knicks, Philadelphia 76ers, New Jersey Nets, Washington Wizards
Region E: Southeast
Composed of: 8 states
NBA Teams Represented: Memphis Grizzlies, Charlotte Bobcats, Atlanta Hawks, Orlando Magic, Miami Heat
Region F: International
Composed of: Foreigners, especially them Chinese and Canadians
Population: ~5.9 billion
NBA Teams Represented: Toronto Raptors, Houston Rockets, Yi Jianlian
Each region then has one ballot with a vote for each of the ten positions from both Conferences (East G, G, F, F, C and West G, G, F, F, C). Each ballot would count toward only 1/6 of the results, regardless of how many actual votes were tallied.
So let’s take an example: Guards in the Western Conference. Two are voted in as starters. Assume Regional Parity is in place this year.
|There is only one happy ending possible here.|
Region A has severe fan bias toward Kobe Bryant, so he gets 1 vote. Even though Baron Davis, Steve Nash, and Brandon Roy also are in this region, none of them seem very popular in the voting this year, so let’s assume the majority of voters are smart and pick Chris Paul for the other guard slot. So we’re at:
Kobe – 1, CP3 – 1
Region B has the Timberwolves, but they don’t have any guards on the Western Conference ballot and the rest of their region is in the East. So let’s also assume they pick Kobe and Paul. Region E contains Memphis and a bunch of East teams. O.J. Mayo and Mike Conley are on the ballot, but you’re going to have a hard time convincing me that either of them would win this region. With no other favorite sons, let’s assume they also go with Kobe and Paul. Same with Region D, which is entirely in the East. Now we’re at:
Kobe – 4, CP3 – 4
|Your franchise has officially been chopped and screeewwwed.|
CP3 – 5, Kobe – 4, T-Pain – 1
Region F’s first choice goes to T-Pain thanks to China. Being as Kobe is one of the top two most popular players in the world, he’ll get the other vote. So the final tally is:
CP3 – 5, Kobe – 5, T-Pain – 2
Despite the fact that, overall, T-Pain may have gotten 200,000 more popular votes than Paul, most of these votes likely came from two regions. Factoring out regional bias in this senatorial manner gives a clear-cut and, really, more deserving winner. If, however, the final tally ended up like this:
Kobe – 6, CP3 – 3, T-Pain – 3
We could go straight to the popular vote, in which case T-Pain would win. But I’m going to add an extra wrinkle instead to try to make the voting even more balanced.
Expertise … by Players
The second part of the solution addresses the general idiocy problem, e.g. fans voting for Gilbert Arenas on name recognition alone, despite his not having played a single game this year. This basically gives players the same deal that coaches have: each of the 450 or so NBA players gets a single ballot, say one week before the end of voting. They can vote for any player not on their own current team, and they only get to vote once. Then their votes are tallied up, and as a collective, count for 1/3 of the total votes. Why 1/3 and not 1/2? Because the All-Star game is for the fans, so their opinion should matter more. Really, it doesn’t have to be 1/3. As long as the ratio is less than 1/2, it should be fine, but for this example, we’ll use 1/3.
So, let’s go back to our earlier scenario:
Kobe – 6, CP3 – 3, T-Pain – 3
Let’s assume all 450 players turned in their 900 votes for the two West guard positions, and the results ended up looking like this:
- Kobe – 400 votes
- CP3 – 200
- Kidd – 100 (even NBA players fall for name recognition, just not as badly)
- Ginobili – 50
- D. Williams – 25
- Others – less than 25 each
Kobe – 9, CP3 – 6, T-Pain – 3
Reason triumphs over homers again! Let’s assume, though, the players get a little nutty and start hating on Kobe and do something like vote for Paul and T-Pain or even two other completely different guards. Then the results could look something like this:
Kobe – 6, CP3 – 6, T-Pain – 6
Kobe – 6, CP3 – 3, T-Pain – 3, Kidd – 3, Nash – 3
Kobe – 6, CP3 – 3, T-Pain – 3, Kidd – 3, Nash – 3
In this case, the fan vote should always win out, and ties should be determined by the popular vote. In either case above, that would mean Kobe and T-Pain would win. Kobe, because he had the most regional fan votes. T-Pain, because he tied for the second most regional fan votes and had the most popular fan votes between the two players who tied.
Finally, my selections for All-Star 2009:
|G||Devin Harris||Chris Paul|
|G||Dwyane Wade||Kobe Bryant|
|F||Danny Granger||Dirk Nowitzki|
|F||LeBron James||Tim Duncan|
|C||Dwight Howard||Yao Ming|
Sorry Shaq, you are having a renaissance in Phoenix, but you don’t make it onto my ballot when you're only playing every other game. You do take Amar’e off of it, though, by stealing his production. Also, I wanted to put Paul Millsap in as the write-in vote, but Stuckey is closer to the conversation with Harris and Wade than Millsap is with Nowitzki and Duncan. Also, I'm voting for Joe Alexander to be in the dunk contest, because he seems the most enthusiastic and the best leaper in the candidates' videos. Probably because he's the only one who never plays and doesn't have anything better to do.