January 17, 2012

The Heart, The Mind, and the All Star Vote

Democracy, as Winston Churchill once very famously said, is the "worst form of government, except all those other forms". On the bright side, it gives every person the choice to elect their representatives. On the other hand, it gives every person the choice to elect their representatives. When you get your way, democracy is great. When Mayawati gets elected (and re-elected) as your state's Chief Minister, you start to seriously doubt the system.

I live in India, the world's largest democracy, and I write about the NBA, which is based in America (sorry Toronto), a large, efficient, and proud democratic nation. That is why I guess it wasn't difficult for me to understand and support the idea of fans voting for the starters for the yearly mid-season exhibition - the All Star Game - ever since the NBA introduced fan ballots. The All Star Game, after all, is just an exhibition, a time to have fun and a showcase event for the NBA's most popular and best players and for the fans to see all of them, from so many of the league's 30 different teams, on the court competing at the same time.

The NBA offers the fans to vote for the five all star game starters in each team, but then has the league's coaches fill in the remaining seven spots in each roster to bring balance to the team and also reward less popular but deserving players for their efforts.

But, by rewarding fans with the power to vote for the 41.67 percent of each team every year, the NBA is potentially diluting talent in favour of popularity. Which is fine, since the game is an exhibition for the fans. But this is why I also believe that being an All Star shouldn't count as much to a player's legacy as, say, being named to one of the All-NBA Teams or All-NBA Defensive Teams. Yes, deserving players do become all stars in the process, but a player's legacy should be judged by their talent (rewarded by official All-NBA selection) than by the popularity amongst the masses, many of whom (like me) vote by the heart first and the mind second.

And I have always, unashamedly been an All Star voter with the heart first and the mind second. If the NBA is letting me choose my favourite five players for each conference, then I'll choose the players I'm most biased towards and not the ones that deserve it the most. This is because a) It's just more fun to see players I like, than the deserving ones I don't, and b) The deserving ones will get voted in anyways: the coaches' ballot for the reserves assures a good safety net.

WARNING: You are advised to NEVER follow the above justification when you're actually voting in real life, because you know, an exhibition basketball game is obviously a little different from politics. There is not much of a safety net there, my friends. Real life: Mind first, heart second. All Star game: Heart first, mind second.

I'm rarely one to criticise the democratic process of all star voting though: when an injured Yao Ming used to get voted in year in/year out, it's fine, because after all,
the NBA is a global nation of basketball lovers who have the right to vote (daily) for whom they want to see at the All Star Game. If millions of Chinese fans want to see Yao, then what's wrong with that? (Funny that I'm mentioning China and democratic process in the same sentence. But that's another story...)

When it comes to all star votes, the vox populi is always right. Damn those intellectual basketball elites!

The NBA opened its All Star Ballot just 11 days into the shortened 2011/12 season, and the voting will be complete by January 31st. The 2012 All Star Game is set to be held in Orlando on February 26th.

Now, if I was to put on my 'intellectual basketball elitist' cap on, these are the players whom I would probably vote in as starters at the All Star Game this season, Keep in mind the NBA's 2 guards, 2 forwards, 1 Center system which sometimes creates unbalance and force me to vote for crappy Centers:

  • East: Derrick Rose, Rajon Rondo, LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, Dwight Howard.
  • West: Kobe Bryant, Chris Paul, Kevin Durant, LaMarcus Aldridge, Andrew Bynum.

    Now, going by the first ballot returns from the fan-voting, these are the players most likely to start the game on February 26th:

  • East: Derrick Rose, Dwyane Wade, LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, Dwight Howard.
  • West: Kobe Bryant, Chris Paul, Kevin Durant, Blake Griffin, Andrew Bynum.

    Wait, what? So are you saying that the fans actually know what they're talking about? Yes sir. Fan voting, however critisised, is usually pretty close to reality, because the best players will also usually be the most popular.Of course, there are a few interesting anomalies: Ricky Rubio ending third amongst West guards, ahead of the likes of Westbrook, Nash, and Monta Ellis. Dirk Nowitzki and Pau Gasol have more votes than better performers like Aldridge and Kevin Love. Luol Deng, who will definitely be picked as a reserve this year, only getting the seventh-most votes amongst forwards in the East. But, surprisingly, in the majority cases, the system works. Unlike me, most fans vote by both the heart and the mind.

    Not me, though. Here are the players I've been voting for to entertain me at the all star game. Go ahead and mock my choices - but hey, it's a democracy, remember?


    Derrick Rose
    Dwyane Wade
    Carmelo Anthony
    Kevin Garnett
    Tyson Chandler


    Ricky Rubio
    Tyreke Evans
    Metta World Peace
    Pau Gasol
    DeMarcus Cousins

    Yes. Please calm down Kobe/LeBron/Howard/Durant fans: I'm just personally more entertained by different players. Yes, I understand that not one of my Western Conference nominees is going to start - hell I'd be surprised if any of them even makes the reserves this year. That is fine, most of my favourite players are in the East, anyways. And yes, this is the first time I'm voting for Metta World Peace. My starting forward spot had been going to someone called 'Ron Artest' for the majority of the last decade.

    So those are my choices. Now tell me: how do you vote - by the mind, the heart, or a mixture of both? Are you a fan of the NBA's fan-democratic system, or do you wish it never existed?

    Because in a few years, the system is going to get a little more interesting, especially for Indian fans. Watch out when the first Indian player makes it to the NBA. He doesn't even need to log more than five minutes a game in the league. We have a billion people here who'll ensure he starts!
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