It was Ice-T who coined the phrase ‘Don’t hate the playa, hate the game.’ Perhaps that’s what needs to be said about Houston Rockets guard Jeremy Lin’s All-Star status. Last week, in the first All-Star ballot returns, Lin ranked 3rd in the Western Conference backcourt position, behind Kobe Bryant and Chris Paul, 1 spot shy of being voted in as a starter for the 2013 game in Houston. Plenty of negative reactions went around, articles stating how Lin doesn’t deserve the starting spot like this one. Even ESPN’s Chris Broussard tweeted last week, “Jeremy Lin 3rd among WC guards in first returns of all-star voting. Scary.”
If being an NBA All-Star was strictly based on on-court performance, then it would be unthinkable that Lin would even be in the discussion. 24 games into the season, Lin ranks 28th in the Western Conference among guards in scoring, at 11.3 points per game, and 12th in the conference in assists per game, at 6. Names like Greivis Vasquez, Goran Dragic, Damian Lillard, and Mike Conley all rank ahead of Lin; none of them will most likely be elected as an All-Star, neither as a starter nor a reserve.
But the All-Star game is the fans game, as they get to choose who they want to see as starters, so being voted as an NBA All-Star isn’t strictly based on performance. Marketability, fan appreciation, popularity all factor in. Last season, Lin was the talk of the league, and quite possibly, was the most popular player. His jersey ranked 2nd only to Derrick Rose in sales, not to mention Lin’s Taiwanese ethnic background garnered him much attention and popularity overseas.
While Lin’s performance thus far this season has not been up to par based on his numbers, his likeability and popularity is still there, especially in Taiwan and China. When the NBA announced that they would add different platforms for NBA All-Star voting, it almost seemed like Lin was destined to be voted in. Not only do fans have the option of voting online on Nba.com, they can now cast their votes via Facebook and Twitter. What most American fans do not know is that the NBA also added 2 other social media platforms where fans can cast their vote: Sina Weibo and Tencent QQ. Never heard of those 2 services? That’s because both are social media sites in China, allowing more fans in China to vote. Think about it this way: the number of NBA fans in China and Taiwan may perhaps be close to the population of America as a whole. Now that’s scary.
If Lin does get voted in, he will not be the only player who has been elected as a starter based strictly off popularity. As recent as 2010, Allen Iverson was voted as a starting guard for the East, despite averaging career lows of 13.8 points and 4 assists. Not to mention, it turned out to be Iverson’s last season in the NBA, the same season that he retired from the Memphis Grizzlies after a couple of games because he didn’t want to come off the bench, only to return to Philadelphia. Iverson eventually did not play due to his daughter suffering from an illness. Both Grant Hill and Alonzo Mourning were voted as East Starters in the 2001 game when both players had not even played a game that season. Yao Ming was voted as the starting West Center in his rookie year, 2003, over Shaquille O’Neal, despite averaging considerably lower numbers. But in Yao’s case, it was the international vote that catapulted him, and the same possibility can happen for Lin.
Granted, in no way can Lin be compared to the likes of Iverson, Hill, Mourning, or Yao, as the foursome already had good, established careers at the time: Yao being the exception, but was the number one overall pick, but it does signify the fact that the popularity of a player can be more important than the player’s performance.
Lin’s brilliant performance Monday night in his return to Madison Square Garden, where he scored 22 points and had 8 assists in a Rocket win will most definitely garner him more votes. His 38 point performance against the San Antonio Spurs also should have grabbed him more votes. Yes, there are players who have put up these types of performances on a consistent basis who have never gotten All-Star recognition. Guards like Stephen Curry, Kyle Lowry, and Brandon Jennings immediately come to mind. But just like in life and in society, some people will receive more attention than others, deserving or undeserving. Should he have a couple more performances like those, it will be inevitable that he gets voted in, possibly ahead of Paul.
But look at it this way: The All-Star game is basically a pick-up game for the fans to see. Lin is at his best in the open court, with the ball in his hands running the fast break, playing playground ball. It would be exciting to see him play in this setting, throwing lobs to the likes of Kevin Durant, Dwight Howard, and Blake Griffin, like he did last year in the Rookie-Sophomore game. It won’t be Chris Paul exciting, but I guarantee it will be exciting, nevertheless.
Perhaps the voting system needs to be changed, perhaps it shouldn’t, but that’s an argument for another day. Regardless of what the NBA decides to do in the future, just remember that if Jeremy Lin is an NBA All-Star this season, don’t hate the playa, hate the game.