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NBA All-Star Game: Are We Sure Players Were Snubbed?

Popularity and personal taste are odd things.

I remember the first two All-Star Games that I REALLY watched (with an eye on basketball rather than just a casual fan) were the 1992 and 1993 All-Star Games. I was an NBA obsessive 10 and 11-yr old back then just trying to find any reason not to believe Michael Jordan wasn’t the best player in the NBA.

I didn’t have really anything against Michael Jordan. I’ve just been playing Devil’s Advocate in obvious arguments since I realized that you could have some fun with that sort of mental exercise. And I wasn’t really willing to accept that MJ was the best player (possibly ever) at the time because I wanted to find holes in his game. Confoundingly (is that a word?), I tried to convince myself that his dribbling ability and three-point shooting were weak enough that there could be an argument against his hands-down greatness.

Sure it was completely moronic and stupid but I was 10 years old. Aren’t all 10-year old kids moronic and stupid? Naturally, this made me gravitate towards players that hand amazing dribbling abilities and deep range on their jumpers. Guys like Kenny Anderson, Muggsy Bogues and Tim Hardaway dazzled me with their handles. Chris Mullin, Ricky Pierce and Dan Majerle bewildered me with their clichéd but accurate “in-the-gym range” on their jumpers.

Whenever I caught a glimpse of Dan Majerle, I was particularly enamored. He would spot up five to eight feet behind the three-point line and drill it. It seemed so effortless. It seemed so natural. If he was on NBC on the weekend, I was going to watch. Well, I was going to watch regardless but I was going to focus on him during the game. I just wanted to see the shooting stunts he would attempt each game. So when I buckled down with my “wealth of basketball knowledge” at the age of 10 and watched the 1992 All-Star Game from Orlando, I was thrilled that I was going to get to see one of my favorite players giving it a go in his first All-Star Game.

He didn’t do much. Made a couple of baskets, missed a couple of threes and was one of many players lost in the celebration of Magic Johnson as he dazzled the court that day, stopped Isiah Thomas and Michael Jordan on the last two defensive possessions of his hey-day and made that improbable three-pointer to cap off an incredible display of respect and love for the recently retired legend.

However, the next year in Salt Lake City, Dan Majerle shined a bit brighter. He made three long-range shots. He finished all over the court and ended up with 18 points off the bench in 26 minutes. He even blocked a couple shots and grabbed some boards. It was a nice showing.

So what’s the point of all this Dan Majerle rehashing?

Well, Dan Majerle probably never really deserved to be an All-Star. He made the ASG three times in his career. And he was a fine player. He was a really good player in face and a game changer quite often. But was he actually an All-Star? Does it even matter? His best pre-All Star break numbers in a season were the ’94-’95 campaign in which he averaged 17.4 points, 4.8 rebounds, and 4.1 assists while shooting 44% from the field and 38% from three. He did it as the main guy for the Suns while Charles Barkley and Kevin Johnson battled the injury bug.

Here’s the crazy thing about this All-Star appearance though – he came off the bench for the Suns during most of that first half. He only started 46 games that season and 21 of them came before the All-Star break. He was voted into the All-Star Game by the fans becoming the first bench player to ever be voted to start an All-Star Game. And where do you think the All-Star Game was?

Phoenix, Arizona!

Dan Majerle was a really good role player throughout his career. And for a four-year stretch, he was arguably the best role player in the NBA. But was he ever truly an All-Star? What does All-Star even mean? Are we sure he was one of the 24 best players in the NBA those three years? Was he just voted into his third ASG as a starter because of some hometown cooking? Does it matter?

I had an epiphany last night. I was thinking about the All-Star Game and what it meant. Even though we all regard it as a meaningless exhibition, the majority of us still hold it in high regard. You can tell we hold it in high regard because we’re outraged that Allen Iverson is starting the All-Star Game despite the fact that he received over one million votes.

Should we really be outraged though? What is the All-Star Game? It’s a celebration of basketball, right? Maybe it used to be the 24 best players from that year showing up to play a spirited exhibition at the mid-ish point of the season but it hasn’t necessarily been that for some time now. Players no longer take it seriously unless they’re trying to win the MVP award for that game (see: Kobe, LeBron, Iverson).

Everyone gets mad at the fan voting system (myself included) because it often puts one or two guys into the starting lineup and therefore the game itself when they might not be completely “deserving.” Does this upset us because it’s a basketball injustice or because we keep confusing the term “All-Star” with “All-NBA?”

The All-NBA teams are meant to tell us who the best players in the NBA are for that particular season. The All-Star teams are supposed to tell us who the stars of each conference are. That’s a huge difference. In fact, those are two different worlds altogether. With the starting lineups in the ASG format, there are already HUGE flaws for determining if these 10 players are deserving, most popular or a combo of the two.

The All-Star ballots are put together before the season starts and voting begins about two weeks after the start of the regular season. Why would you have voting two weeks into a 25-week excursion if it was supposed to truly reward the 24 best players of the first half of that season? With All-Star voting, it’s never been about who is having the best season. It’s always been about popularity. And after this epiphany last night, I don’t really have a problem with it. We’re mixing popularity with this celebration of the game. So why do we get bent out of shape about “All-Star Snubs?”

Does anyone honestly think that David Lee is one of the 24 best players in the NBA this season? Sure, he puts up some fantastic numbers and is one of the few bright spots on the Knicks this year but he doesn’t play a lick of defense and I’m not sure I’d have him in my Top Ten Forwards in the East list. Are we SURE that Josh Smith’s snubbing is a bad thing? Matt Moore perfectly articulated what this could mean for his career by taking this personally. Well, isn’t that more important to the game of basketball than giving him 18 minutes of play against the Western Conference this year?

You want your guy there because you want recognition for your team/player. People want to ignore the fact that Monta Ellis has more turnovers than a breakfast buffet or makes Troy Hudson look like Gary Payton on the defensive end of the court. It’s the reason that Chris Kaman is a snub. It’s the reason that Marc Gasol is a snub. It’s the reason that Andrew Bynum is a snub. It’s the reason that Derrick Rose making the All-Star Game in the East this year is “absurd.”

Is it really that absurd? Between Derrick Rose and David Lee, who would be more fun to watch in an All-Star Game? It’s Derrick Rose and it’s not even close. Now, with Josh Smith you have a better argument. Josh Smith is one of the five players I make sure to watch every night. He always does some otherworldly ish on the basketball court.

So if we’re celebrating the game of basketball this Valentine’s Day weekend, maybe we DO need him in Dallas. Maybe Kevin Garnett will not want to risk further injuring himself in the All-Star exhibition and sit out, thus opening the door for Josh Smith to show his stuff.

Whatever happens, just know that it’s a game we put too much thought into. We should be much more concerned with the All-NBA teams and the All-Defensive teams at the end of the season. This game is about fun and it will be fun for the most part. The pace will be fast, the shots will be plentiful and we’re all going to get to see some amazing feats of basketball.

It’s not about who the best is. It’s not about who the most deserving is. It’s about giving those 10-yr old fans something they’re going to remember.

Now enjoy your weekend with some Dan Majerle highlights: