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The Winner’s Circle?

If you have been following the NBA this year, you are already aware about how unbelievably terrible the Eastern Conference has been. We’re three months into the season and it’s considered a cause of celebration that a couple of teams besides Miami, Indiana, and Atlanta have broken through the apparently formidable .500 wall. To describe it as an abyss would be an insult to black holes everywhere.

More than anything, the collective malaise of the right-hand side of the map has brought up the issue of winning, and how important it is to the validation of a talented player as a “star.” No statistic is more critical than the check-mark in the W column, right?

There’s no subject that makes this a bigger source of contention and nasty internet wars than the upcoming All-Star game. “An All-Star selection should reward winning,” you have likely heard an analyst (probably Charles Barkley) say. After all, if somebody’s truly a star, then they should be able to convert that talent into wins in over half of their team’s games. So, what happens when the East has only half as many teams as the West that are even doing that?

It’s reached beyond the cliché at this point, but the NBA is a star-driven league, and that may be reflected most clearly than the All-Star Game. It’s a spectacle, where celebrities show up to get five seconds of screen time during stoppages in play, musicians give live performances at seemingly every turn, and everyone from “stars” to role-players participate in the weekend festivities to showcase themselves. It’s the ultimate celebration of the entertainment value of the NBA.

Much like the Grammys (or really any award show at this point), it’s a popularity contest. We always lament how some of the most exciting players are stuck on woefully constructed teams by incompetent General Managers, left to sink or swim with an ensemble of scrubs that would only be a playoff team in the D-League. The fans want to see the most talented guys showcase themselves on All-Star Weekend. By design, it’s meant to reward the most basic of values that everyone from a reader of this blog to a casual fan could see – stats, skills, and how many “holy shit how did he do that?!” plays per game.

Look, the All-Star Game is an ultimately meaningless exhibition. Guys go out there to have fun, and couldn’t give two shits about defense or any of the other things their coaches would typically send their heads to a pike for failing to do (unless that coach is Mike Brown, of course) for three quarters. Guys move out of the way on defense, and let their opponents pull off all of the flashy dunks they want. Hell, guys are frowned upon for actually trying to prevent those plays. And if the game is out of hand by the end, it turns into a glorified dunk contest. The end result has no consequence.

So in a game where winning is the furthest thing from anyone’s mind, why should that be the undisputed criteria for letting guys in? Especially if following it to the T would make for an awfully thin Eastern Conference team? I say leave the winning issue to the MVP discussions in May.

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