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To the outsider, there are several oddities to this year’s NBA All-Star Game. Most notably: Kevin Garnett and Allen Iverson as starters. There are certainly some decent arguments against their selections. The most obvious one is that both players have missed significant playing time due either to injury (Garnett) or not actually being a starter for much of the season (Iverson, who also has switched teams this season). Additionally, and especially for Iverson, neither player has really had the statistical season that would merit selection the All-Star Game. And yet, despite these arguments, it is perfectly reasonable for these two players to play in the big game.
The reason they deserve to play is because the NBA All-Star game is not for the players, it’s for the fans. There’s no stakes to the NBA All-Star Game like there is to the MLB All-Star Game. No home-court advantage is on the line, so there’s no objective reason why the All-Stars need to actually be the best the NBA has to offer. The NBA All-Star Weekend is a spectacle for the fans, with events ranging from HORSE to the Slam Dunk Contest. The big game is just the culmination of the weekend. If the game doesn’t matter, shouldn’t what the fans want be the only criterion that matters? The fans are paying for the tickets, so shouldn’t they have the final say? If the fans want to see Kevin Garnett and Allen Iverson play, there’s no reason they shouldn’t.
Purists will argue that fan voting diminishes the honor of being selected to an All-Star game. This might be true. However, maybe the nature of the All-Star game has changed, and purists need to accept that. Perhaps selection to the All-Star game should not be considered as big a deal as it used to be. It’s changed from the best players in the game to the most popular players in the game. Why is that a bad thing? The only argument is that All-Star selection is a factor in deciding who gets into the NBA Hall of Fame. This is a fair argument, but selection to the Hall of Fame should be taking far more into consideration than just All-Star games (and I’m sure it does). Statistics, championships, and rankings among current Hall of Famers are all more useful ways to decide the Hall of Fame validity of a player. If the All-Star game’s validity is diminished, so what? Sports must change to meet the changes in society and its fans, or they will become relics and get replaced by something else.
There are those who will argue that the game itself will be of weaker quality because the players are not as on paper as they could be. This is true. But if sports teach anything, they teach that on any given day any player is capable of playing above and beyond his on-paper abilities. On any given day, anyone can be an All-Star. Perhaps Allen Iverson will return to his golden years and play out of his mind. Perhaps Kevin Garnett will key an Eastern Conference defense that is utterly impenetrable and make a statement to other teams about his health and ability. Or, perhaps they will both under-perform and there selection will truly be deemed an error. But in a game that has no objective meaning, the only thing that should matter is popularity. Purists are getting plenty of great players who truly represent the best the NBA has to offer. The fans are getting the players they want to see compete. Everybody wins.