The NBA will announce its All-Star Game reserves on Thursday. I’m going to assume the league’s coaches were serious in voting, a stark contrast to the players, who acted like standup comedians in balloting for the starters.
Having fought for, and won, the right to vote on starting lineups for the first time, players used the opportunity to crack jokes.
Ben Simmons – along with several others who have played as many games as yours truly this season – appeared on ballots. So did luminaries such as Adreian Payne, Pierre Jackson and Bryn Forbes, who have logged fewer than 100 total minutes. Other ballers receiving All-Star nods from peers included Jarell Martin, Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot and the Wizards’ own Tomas Satorsanky.
There were 154 players who didn’t have a check next to Kevin Durant and 128 players who didn’t circle LeBron James. Only 63 deemed Stephen Curry worthy to be a starting guard for the Western Conference (though to be fair, that omission makes sense considering the mind-boggling exploits of Russell Westbrook and James Harden).
All told, 283 different players received at least one vote on the 324 ballots. Former Washington fan favorite Garrett Temple was among the 98 players who received a single, solitary vote.
“I’m very disappointed in the players,” Golden State coach Steve Kerr told reporters Monday. “They’ve asked for a vote and a lot of them just made a mockery of it. I don’t know what the point is.”
Kerr, who will coach the West All-Stars for the second time in three seasons, wasn’t finished. “I saw all the guys who got votes. Were guys voting for themselves? There were 50 guys on there that had no business getting votes.”
The undeserving were closer to 150. Too many players were no better than the goofy fans who routinely select blatant scrubs.
However, even with the crazy choices by pros and Joes alike, the NBA All-Star isn’t half as dopey as the NFL Pro Bowl.
At least the basketball honorees don’t mind showing up and playing. Conversely, children turn down broccoli less often than NFL players decline to participate in Pro Bowls.
Elias Sports Bureau notes that the league issued a record 133 invitations last year to fill 88 roster spots. The number dropped to 125 this year – the second-highest ever – slightly worse than the 119 invites sent after the 2009 season. The average of 129 invitations over the past two seasons is 23 percent higher than the average (105) from 1998 to 2014, according to Elias.
League officials have done their best to make the Pro Bowl more appealing to players and fans … if you don’t count moving the contest from Honolulu to Orlando.
New additions for 2017 include a skills competition Thursday in which drones drop footballs to waiting players. Talk about hang time! There’s also dodgeball and the return of AFC versus NFC after three years of team captain drafting players like a neighborhood pickup game.
Returning to the conference format is great. But everyone knows too much about football-related damage nowadays to view an exhibition at this level as fun and games. Players can’t go all out because it’s foolish; going too easy makes the contest even more pointless.
NFL preseason games don’t carry the same burden because players are fighting for livelihoods and positions on the depth chart. The same is true of exhibitions like the Senior Bowl, essentially job interviews for the student-athletes.
Hitting hard and often serves you well in the latter instances, but makes you look like a jerk at the Pro Bowl.
Watching and enjoying football without twinges of guilt has become hard enough for some fans, fretting about the abuse players absorb for the sake of our entertainment. But football isn’t football without the energy and emotion displayed throughout the season. The Pro Bowl might as well resort to flag or two-hand touch actually, instead of essentially.
Then again, as long as helmets and shoulder pads are donned, with footballs in the air and NFL bodies on the field, a large number of folks will continue to tune in. The Pro Bowl drew a 5.0 overnight rating last year, down from 5.6 the year before and 6.7 in 2014. But 8 million viewers watched the 2016 game, compared to 7.6 million who watched the NBA All-Star Game.
Hoopsters have drawn their own criticism lately for lax defense morphing into faux defense, even into the fourth quarter when All-Star Games traditionally become more serious. NFL players don’t turn up their motors in the fourth quarter or the first three. No one blames them, especially since they’re playing a hybrid game bereft of kickoffs, motion, press coverage and blitzes.
But unlike their NBA brethren’s votes, NFL players didn’t send laugh tracks to accompany their ballots.
That makes perfect sense.
The Pro Bowl is farcical enough by itself.