The concept of the NBA All-Star game (like most All-Star games), is more interesting in theory than in reality. It’s great to debate who deserves to be chosen and to see the superstars play. Ultimately, the game is a letdown because the players rarely can manufacture the intensity and it has the feel of a casual pickup game.
Despite all that, following the fan vote is fun. It is a glorified popularity contest and there have been some crazy outcomes. This has changed a bit this year, where the fan vote counts for only 50% of the total vote (while the media and the players vote and each get 25% shares as well). Had the fans been the only voice, we would have had a doozy of choices in a long-in-the-tooth Dwyane Wade and hustling plodder Zaza Pachulia as starters. The new formula will likely keep them both on the team but there have been some wacky choices in the past that couldn’t be wiped away. For fun, let’s run down some other fan choices since 1989-90 that ran against the stats:
-2015-16, Kobe Bryant: Kobe was considered a forward last year and, since it was his final season, the fans demanded one last All-Star game. Kobe’s numbers, as you will recall, were brutal, as he ended up with a 14.9 PER, -2.5 BPM, and -0.2 VORP. But don’t feel too bad about that outcome. The next leading vote getter in the frontcourt was Pachulia, who apparently has a well-organized Georgian voting bloc. While no objective fan actually wants to Zaza play over Kobe (even in 2015-16), Pachulia’s advanced stats were better, if not quite All-Star level (16.2 PER, 1.4 BPM, 1.7 VORP).
-2013-14, Kobe Bryant: Kobe was injured and barely played in 2013-14 (6 games) but his popularity and fan hopes that he would stick around were already strong. James Harden got the start in his place.
-2009-10, Allen Iverson: Sentimentality continues…AI was 34 and already running on fumes. Iverson was signed by the Grizz but was cut/left the team within a few weeks (and only 3 games played). The Sixers signed Iverson on December 2, 2009 and, he started 25 games but couldn’t really play anymore. Iverson’s 2009-10 season (13.4 PER, -4.2 BPM, -0.5 VORP) looks even worse than 2015-16 Kobe. Iverson was having quite a few issues off the court and declined to play in the All-Star game, so Joe Johnson got the start.
-2008-09, Allen Iverson: Iverson’s freefall started in 2008-09 when Denver dealt him to Detroit. Iverson was still an NBA player but it was clear he was slowing down (which might be partially attributed to the 3,424 minutes he played in 2007-08 with the Nuggets). No matter the cause, Iverson was average at best in 2008-09 (15.8 PER, -0.7 BPM, 0.7 VORP). The next highest vote getter was Vince Carter, another aging but popular player. VC was still significantly better than Iverson at that point in their careers and deserved the start.
-2003-04, Steve Francis: Francis wasn’t an aging ex-star at the time. He was 26 and having his first down season (15.8 PER, 2.5 BPM, 3.6 VORP). This wasn’t as bad a choice as late-models of Iverson or Kobe but Francis was not a great either. Francis had two advantages that helped him get elected: (1) he was known as an exciting and explosive player in his own right and (2) Yao Ming’s presence on the team got Francis extra attention (and votes from abroad). Yao’s Chinese popularity carried him over Shaq and it probably gave Francis some boost too. The next highest voting guard was Gary Payton, who was 35 and more of a role player for the Lakers and wasn’t any better than Francis. Manu Ginobili would’ve been a much better choice than either of them.
-2002-03, Yao Ming: Speaking of China….Yao was a solid rookie in 2002-03 (20.6 PER, 1.9 BPM, 2.4 VORP) and had a good argument to be on the team. The only problem is that Shaq was still at his absolute peak as a player (29.5 PER, 6.3 BPM, 5.3 VORP) and it’s hard to process him losing the fan vote. Yao would continue to dominate the fan vote over better players but snubbing peak Shaq sticks out in particular as tough to justify.
-2000-01, Grant Hill/Alonzo Mourning: Both Hill and Zo suffered injuries the kept them off the court most of the year. Hill’s feet/ankles never quite recovered from an injury in the 1999-00 playoffs and Zo was stopped by a serious kidney condition. Both players were very popular and were in sympathetic situations but were physically incapable of playing. Hill edged out Latrell Sprewell for the popular vote but Latrell made the team anyway. Theo Ratliff came in second at center but was left off the team (Dikembe Mutombo started and Antonio Davis was the backup).
-1997-98, Anfernee Hardaway: Penny’s popularity lasted longer than his knees and this was the first year injuries really kept him from playing like a star. Penny had dropped off a bit in 1996-97 but he played only 19 games the next year and was not very effective when he did (15.9 PER). A young Iverson probably deserved this spot. We can’t really cry for AI in light of the post-peak All-Star choices he would get himself a decade later.
-1994-95, Dan Majerle/Latrell Sprewell: Majerle’s popularity is hard to totally process now. He was a good defensive player and decent offensive player but the Suns were on television every weekend and he played an aggressive style that stood out. Sprewell also stuck out in his own way as an aggressive dunker. Sprewell also was already a bit of an anti-hero when he sided with Chris Webber that year over coach Don Nelson. Still, Spree’s raw numbers were not that great (14.1 PER, -1.1 BPM, 0.7 VORP) and his effort was being questioned. The third place vote getter, Tim Hardaway, also didn’t have a great season. Jeff Hornacek was the player that probably deserved to be on the team in their places.
-1993-94, B.J. Armstrong: So far, there have been some common themes on our list of undeserving All-Stars. We have seen former stars that were still popular, a little help from Chinese popularity, and players that are shown on television and stand out as exciting. Armstrong didn’t really fit any of those categories. He was essentially a role player who just shot jumpers and his stats were not even average (14.5 PER, -0.9 BPM, 0.7 VORP). Mark Price came in third in the voting and was a vastly superior player. Even at the time, most were at a loss to explain how Armstrong won. Armstrong, though, was non-plussed by this and he told the press that : “[e]verything you get, you deserve. It’s been a long hard process….But I’ve always believed in myself.” Ira Winderman of the Sun-Sentinel didn’t buy it, calling Armstrong “a competent player, but little more.” I assume Armstrong got the nod because he was popular for playing on the Michael Jordan Bulls (though MJ was retired that season) but we’ll never really know how this one happened.
-1992-93, Isiah Thomas: Isiah was another small guard who aged more quickly than anticipated. He was only 31 but Thomas was already very average (15.4 PER, 0.2 BPM, 1.6 VORP). His reputation from winning two titles lingered longer than his star ability. Hornacek was next on the voting chart and was not a bad choice. The player who was really squeezed by Isiah was Reggie Miller, who was not yet popular, but already playing at a star level.
1989-90, A.C. Green: Famously, Karl Malone threw a fit when Green got the start over him. Although Malone was always a bit of a pain in the butt, it was hard to argue with him on this point. AC was a role player on a great team (14.7 PER, 0.4 BPM, 1.6 VORP) and not having a great year by his own standards. Malone was more than twice the player (27.2 PER , 6.6 BPM, 6.7 VORP). Green was pretty classy about it and told the press that “I’m surprised to be on the team. I never knew my position in the balloting, and it’s really out of the players’ control who the fans vote for.”