Everyone has their take on the NBA All-Star voting process. Unlike MLB, not every team, by rule, gets a representative on the squad, so every year fans have a favorite player that gets left off and “disrespected” in their eyes. And when players like Tracy McGrady, Allen Iverson, Shaquille O’Neal and Penny Hardaway threaten to, or do, sneak in due to the fan vote, thus pushing more deserving players away from one of the premier events in all of hoops, there are strong reactions in office, home, barstool and internet lives.
Major complaints are usually along the lines, “Man, people are stupid” and, “That’s just because he has an entire country voting for him.” Players, often those who might get left out of the game, have voiced their complaints over the years, as have coaches, owners and anyone that’s a part of the media collective. People that are supposed to know better than the largely undefined casual fan. Whether or not most of these people have side agendas or not, they tend to have a point. History is huge and when performance is not properly rewarded, history, at least conversational history, can get murky.
Supporters of the process, which allows anyone anywhere to vote from a pre-selected pool of players up to one time per day, say that the people should get what they want, whether it’s deemed the correct decision or not. This is what the NBA thinks, too, since the system remains intact just as David Stern’s regime does the same. It’s a business model geared toward drawing in the most interest, the most dollars and to sustaining world-wide growth for the league. For anyone that makes a dime off basketball, that can be a conversation stopper, even among the same people listing the various flaws.
I lean toward the side of keeping things the way they are. More people than not are probably getting what they like without being force fed like it was a Disney product. The media has a role in this as well, giving more words and airtime to players like McGrady and Iverson because those are name brands. The ratings say the people want it, so the people get it, same with the votes. It’s an odd symbiotic cycle, but it works. And it’s much better than handing the voting system over to an invisible panel of sports-writers, broadcasters, coaches or players, removing fan input in favor of folks who are often just as unaccountable and biased as the people they blame now (how about an open ballot for all NBA panel voting?). But the system isn’t perfect, and rather than lament it’s failures let’s try to figure out how to make it better. That starts with trusting the fans to think.
1. Remove all names and positions from the ballots
Right now there are two main ways to vote: online and with paper akin to an SAT scoresheet. You select, from a group chosen based on prior performance, five players per conference: two guards, two forwards and a center. It can all take less than a minute to do. It’s about as difficult as walking down the aisle in the grocery store and choosing from 10 different flavors of chips.
Why is this good? If All-Star selections are important enough that we give weight to them when considering a player’s career, why should it be so easy? Of course many people will elect to go with the familiar names staring them right in the face. Half of their work is already done for them. All that’s left is the simple arithmetic at the end of a complicated equation. Think about how much quicker it is to get a group to decide on dinner options when you present them with three familiar choices rather than the broad, “What should we eat?” All it takes is one person to say that one option sounds good and the process is simplified.
If we care enough about doing right by the players, why not ask people to consider their decision a little more? Take the names off the ballot and just leave five write-in slots to fill either online or in paper. If it’s in paper, just print clearly that anything that’s not legible is not accepted. Yes this creates a large number of ballots for the league to digest — which we’ll get to later — but they should be moving away from paper voting anyways. Online, you just create a system where once a person starts typing in a name, matches come up just like in your internet search bar. You will still get people who type in the first popular names that come to mind, but it’s a little easier to digest curious autonomous choices than nearly automated responses.
Secondly, you removed all positional restrictions. If it’s the people’s choice, and the people choose a five-guard starting lineup, so be it. You can fill in positions from there, avoiding Jamaal Magloire situations in the process.
2. Voting doesn’t begin until December 20
As things are right now, voting begins two or three weeks into November, which is also two or three weeks since the first game of the season. That’s insane. You can’t go about selecting All-Stars like you would potential dates after ten rounds of five-minute speed dating. Hardly any teams have even been on national television by then. Let the season mature and give people something to look back on.
Personally, I’d like a three-week voting period beginning January 1st, but in the interest of the league health angle, Dec. 20 gets all the holiday festivities involved. The country makes some of it’s most important decisions on ballots that are open for less than a day, so I’d like to think everyone can find the time to get their selections in during three weeks.
One flaw with this move is that it gives people less time to complain about other people with the staggered releases of voting results. You also don’t get Steve Nash making the late comeback to start over McGrady. Since the league probably enjoys stirring up controversy and interest with these results in the same way it thrives on trade rumors and conspiracy theories, you can keep the discussions going by opening up polling early in November so you can still track how guys are doing. Then, once the official ballot opens, you have a sense for how other people are voting. Hey, just like our current political system.
3. You get one ballot
Does it make sense to give more power to the folks that have the most time to spend voting? Of course not. If you only get one chance to get things right, you are going to take a little more time with it. This way we avoid people voting every time they see a player on a highlight reel.
4. Add a rule excluding players based on minutes played
This is by far the easiest to implement and also one of the older suggestions in the book. If your minutes played in the All-Star Game has any chance of being within 200 percent of your total minutes on the season, you’re out. Some people claim that it’s tyrannical to make others work within a specific rule set, but guess what, basketball has rules and it’s doing pretty well.
5. Let fans vote on everything in All-Star Weekend
The dunk-in during the Rookie Challenge is a step in the right direction since the winner will be voted on via text messages and on NBA.com, but let’s take it even further. Since we are removing the two-month long ballot process, give the fans more to vote on during the voting period.
So, reserve one spot in every contest for the fan vote, including the Dunk Contest, 3-pt Shootout, Skills Challenge and H.O.R.S.E. We can ignore the Shooting Star Challenge or whatever that’s called this year because nobody cares about it. Again, don’t make people choose from a pool, just let them write in who they want to see in that challenge. The problem you run into here is players getting voted into challenges they really aren’t suited for, like Chris Paul in the Dunk Contest or Dwight Howard in the 3-pt Contest. In that case, the players have full right to decline the spot and give it to the next person on the list, even if all they do is vote in LeBron James every season.
It’s not a perfect process and you might get some pretty screwy results sometimes, but the league still has plenty of spots to fill of it’s own choosing. And again, you are giving the fans what they want, only asking them to put a little thought into their decisions.
Will we ever see any of these changes. Maybe some, but almost definitely not all. The NBA loves giving people things to discuss and debate because that just means they are talking about the league. And unless the topic is performance enhancers or drugs or guns or gambling, the league isn’t getting hurt by one poor vote every year or so. Guys like Deron Williams and Carmelo Anthony might get jobbed out of an All-Star spot every so often, but in time they all get their due. With hoops writing as good and comprehensive as it ever was, with more reference materials being put out every day than you would get in entire seasons thirty years ago, do people even use All-Star appearances when debating a player’s worth and talent? We can damn the people all we want for their decisions, but how much of a decision is it if you aren’t asking them to think?