The argument of whether or not Kobe Bryant should be in this season’s NBA All-Star Game isn’t really about the Los Angeles Lakers superstar, but about the selection process itself.
Unlike the arbitrary MVP award, which doesn’t know if it should be based on the best player on the best team or the top player with the best stats, the All-Star Game very much exists for one reason and one reason only: to entertain the fans. As such, players who are selected to the game are essentially there to put on a show for basketball lovers.
Outside of individual accolades, there are no stakes in the actual game. The NBA’s version of the mid-season classic doesn’t even award home-field advantage in the Finals like the MLB does with the World Series.
So yes, it’s totally fine that Bryant was the leading vote-getter in the first returns of All-Star voting with 719,235 votes and will almost surely play in his 18th event this February.
NBA All-Star voting: 1) Kobe Bryant – 719,000 2) Stephen Curry – 510,000 3) LeBron James – 357,000
— NBA Updates Ⓜ️ (@MySportsRumor) December 25, 2015
The fans get to vote for the starters and they clearly want to see arguably the most influential player of his generation playing in one last All-Star Game before he retires. There’s nothing wrong with that. If you’re going to point to Kobe’s stats as a reason why he shouldn’t be selected – he’s averaging 17.3 points on 34.3 per cent shooting – you’re simply looking at it from the wrong perspective.
All the justification Kobe needs is his 17 prior All-Star appearances, which mean he’s been so great for so long that his body of work has gained the fans’ respect and attention. It’s a popularity contest at the end of the day.
The unfortunate side to having Bryant in the game is it takes away a spot from another deserving player, perhaps a young up-and-comer or a veteran carving out his best season. It also means players potentially missing out on money they’ve conceivably earned, as contracts can often contain All-Star bonuses.
That’s the downside, but it’s better than the alternative options of either allowing the fans to vote for reserves instead of starters or not receiving votes at all.
In the first case, the starting lineups would be made up of the very best players, but that’s just five guys. There are more reserves on a team so if the point is to not let the fans screw up who gets selected, you’re actually giving them the ability to decide the fate of even more players.
Alternatively, if you take away fans’ votes entirely, you’re contradicting the spirit and existence of the game.
All-Star voting never ceases to upset certain fans and players, but the fundamental problem is how much stock is put into the game. Leave the true rewarding of players to the end-of-season awards and let the All-Star Game function for what it is.
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