Fans Say Let A.l. Play
Oh, and if not for the insistence of commissioner David Stern to do the right thing by having the fans choose the starters, nobody really would care.
It's an exhibition game, which means you can't take it seriously, which means if folks wish to vote in a starting lineup for either team that has the two remaining members of the Beatles, Donald Duck, Oprah Winfrey and a potted plant, so be it. Nearly eight decades ago, when All-Star Games were invented by a sports editor of a Chicago newspaper, he clearly stated they were for the fans. Give or take a few years, most commissioners of leagues have concurred.
So leave Allen Iverson alone. The same goes for those who voted the NBA icon into the East's starting lineup this year despite everything -- his throbbing knee, his mediocre play at 34, the better seasons of Joe Johnson, Rajon Rondo and Gerald Wallace, the cries that this isn't a true representation of the game's best players.
Well, this really isn't a true representation of the game's best players, because it isn't supposed to be. For verification, you can re-read what I just typed.
Iverson is the people's choice. That applies to America and to China, where this energetic guard of maybe 6-feet and 180 pounds also gets huge support. Therefore, since he is an All-Star Game starter for the 10th time in 14 seasons by popular demand on two continents, the other stuff should be ignored -- especially the stuff from NBA players who have ulterior motives regarding this situation.
For instance: Chauncey Billups and Ray Allen lead the whiners by saying the system should switch from fans picking all of the NBA All-Star starters to players and reporters accounting for half of the process.
What Allen didn't say was that more than a few players throughout pro sports have clauses in their contracts that stuff chunks of cash into their pockets for making All-Star games and even more for starting them. In other words, there is likely a costly reason why Billups and Allen are obsessed with getting the "right" players selected. It's just not necessarily for the "right" reason. And here's another thing: While many of these guys want the status -- and definitely the money -- associated with making and starting All-Star Games, they'd rather not play in them.
For years, baseball players have discovered a pulled this or a sore that to skip All-Star games for a little July vacation. Barry Bonds was among those who even bolted in the middle of All-Star Games to catch flights back home.
Then there is the NFL, where high-profile defections from the Pro Bowl became an epidemic this week. Tom Brady blamed the same rib and finger injuries that he ignored during his regular season with the New England Patriots. When Ben Roethlisberger was offered Brady's spot, he declined by citing the same shoulder problem that he ignored during his regular season with the Pittsburgh Steelers.
St. Louis Rams running back Steven Jackson also announced that he couldn't -- or just wouldn't -- play (bad back), and the same went for Arizona Cardinals wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald (bad knee).
Philip Rivers. Wes Welker. Jake Long.
They joined others earlier this month by saying they won't play in the Pro Bowl for various reasons, ranging from firm to flimsy, which makes you wonder if the NFL and others should adopt the NHL rule. In that league, All-Stars who are injured have to miss at least the last game before the All-Star Break in order to be excused. If not, they must sit out the first regular-season game after the break.
The point is, if the fans want somebody to play in an All-Star Game, and if that person actually wants to play, then everybody should applaud. That applies to Iverson, who diligently is trying to start in the game despite his knee issues, and to the often-injured Tracy McGrady, who showed his popularity by almost making the starting lineup in the West over the incomparable Steve Nash.
McGrady last played two days before Christmas, and he is on the Houston Rockets' trading block. But the fans couldn't care less. They've also voted Kevin Garnett and his damaged knee into the starting lineup in the East over the more consistently impressive Chris Bosh. Plus, they've chosen Tim Duncan to start in the West, even though he has operated less spectacularly than Dirk Nowitzki, whose Mavericks live in the same Dallas that will host next month's All-Star Game.
Shaquille O'Neal as an All-Star forever, because who wouldn't?
O'Neal is the ultimate showman. During his introduction before last year's game in Phoenix, he wore all white and a mask while rocking and bopping with a world famous dance troop. It's just that Dwight Howard is the new Superman among NBA centers, and since O'Neal is near the end of his career, he only has done cameo shots in The LeBron James Show this season with the Cleveland Cavaliers.
Even so, NBA officials should give O'Neal that Willie Mays and Hank Aaron treatment. When those Hall of Famers were fading into retirement, baseball officials placed them in their All-Star Game anyway.
The fans wouldn't settle for less, and it's all about the fans.
There's that magic word again.