LeBron James missed the All-Star game as a rookie in 2004.
Starter-choosing fans voted him fourth at Eastern Conference guard – yes, guard – behind Allen Iverson, Tracy McGrady and Jason Kidd. East coaches chose Kidd, Baron Davis, Paul Pierce and Michael Redd as reserve guards. Asked about hypothetically going as an injury replacement (that was never needed), LeBron disapproved.
“I wasn’t part of the ones that they picked at first, so I wouldn’t even like to be a part of the team if somebody didn’t go,” LeBron said. “I’m an only child and I never want to be picked second. I don’t come second.”
LeBron has frequently been picked first since.
Fans have voted him an All-Star starter the other 18 years of his career – half the time, including this year, with more votes than anyone else. LeBron ties Michael Jordan for most years leading the NBA in All-Star voting, nine.
That’s more than twice as often as anyone else. Kobe Bryant, Vince Carter and Julius Erving each led the league in fan voting four times.
LeBron has led the NBA in All-Star voting six straight seasons, a streak that covers the five years of All-Star drafts. The other captain is again Nets forward Kevin Durant, who led the East in fan votes but will miss the All-Star game due to injury for the second straight year. (LeBron’s injury sounds less serious.)
The 2022 NBA All-Star starters:
- Guard: DeMar DeRozan (Bulls)
- Guard: Trae Young (Hawks)
- Frontcourt: Kevin Durant (Nets)
- Frontcourt: Giannis Antetokounmpo (Bucks)
- Frontcourt: Joel Embiid (76ers)
- Guard: Stephen Curry (Warriors)
- Guard: Ja Morant (Grizzlies)
- Frontcourt: LeBron James (Lakers)
- Frontcourt: Nikola Jokic (Nuggets)
- Frontcourt: Andrew Wiggins (Warriors)
All-Star selections, not starts, get remembered. Which puts the microscope on Wiggins. He’s the only starter who might not have made the game as a reserve.
By the time the Warriors acquired him from the Timberwolves two years ago, the former No. 1 pick and Rookie of the Year on a max contact was considered a massive disappointment. Golden State coach Steve Kerr said Wiggins could thrive with the Warriors because “we’re not asking him to be a star.”
Well, Wiggins became a star anyway in Golden State by handling his duties in a smaller role and picking the right year to shine.
The Western Conference frontcourt race was wide open with Kawhi Leonard and Paul George injured. Wiggins finished third at the position in fan voting, which counts double the other categories. Media and players both ranked Warriors forward Draymond Green and Jazz center Rudy Gobert ahead of Wiggins. The media had Timberwolves center Karl-Anthony Towns ahead, too.
With Wiggins in, everyone who was seriously in the running to start will likely make the All-Star game regardless.
Bulls guard Zach LaVine and Nets guard James Harden will probably get named reserves by Eastern Conference coaches. Ditto Mavericks guard Luka Doncic, Warriors forward Draymond Green, Timberwolves center Karl-Anthony Towns and Jazz center Rudy Gobert by Western Conference coaches.
Suns guards Chris Paul and Devin Booker and Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell are also approaching lock status as reserves.
That’d fill the West roster before even getting to challengers like Spurs guard Dejounte Murray, Thunder guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Lakers big Anthony Davis, Pelicans forward Brandon Ingram, Suns center Deandre Ayton, Mavericks big Kristaps Porzingis, Timberwolves forward Anthony Edwards, Grizzlies wing Desmond Bane and Clippers wing Paul George (who more likely would have been picked if not injured). Some of those players had better cases than Wiggins.
Durant’s injury opens the door for an extra East reserve – helpful, considering the conference’s depth of viable selections.
Beyond LaVine and Harden, Heat wing Jimmy Butler is closest to a lock as a reserve. But that should have been the case last year, and Butler wasn’t selected.
Most of the East’s top reserve candidates are guards: LaVine, Harden, Bucks’ Jrue Holiday, Raptors’ Fred VanVleet, Celtics’ Jaylen Brown, Cavaliers’ Darius Garland and Hornets’ LaMelo Ball. The pool is so deep, the Wizards’ Bradley Beal and Heat’s Kyle Lowry are barely even mentioned, though they could draw a little consideration. Unless coaches skew the league’s position designations – very possible – or other injuries open more slots, just five of those guards can make it (and it would have been only four if Durant didn’t get hurt).
The bar is lower in the frontcourt with three spots for Butler, Celtics forward Jayson Tatum, Cavaliers center Jarrett Allen, Pacers big Domantas Sabonis, Bucks forward Khris Middleton, Hawks big John Collins, Heat big Bam Adebayo, Hornets forward Miles Bridges or Hawks center Clint Capela. Unless any guards who can be considered forwards and take a frontcourt spot.
Who should make it as reserves in both conferences? We covered that here.
The reserves will be announced next Thursday (Feb. 3). Then, the All-Star draft will be held the following Thursday (Feb. 10).
LeBron – whose team has won all four All-Star games with captain-picked rosters – will again have the No. 1 pick in the All-Star draft as the overall fan-vote leader. He has said fans voting him into the game has motivated him to compete harder in the exhibition (last year excepted).
Still going strong, LeBron first led the NBA in All-Star voting in 2007. He narrowly topped Yao Ming, who was right in the middle of his NBA career and is already in the Basketball Hall of Fame.
“That’s something I’ve never dreamed of,” LeBron said of his fan-voting title at the time. “I’ve always wanted to be an All-Star, but being the leading vote-getter over guys like Vince Carter, Shaquille O’Neal, Dwyane Wade and Allen Iverson, you never think that’s going to happen. Just getting the opportunity to be the leading vote-getter is kind of unbelievable.”
All these years later, it’s no longer so unbelievable.
It has become the norm.