It wouldn’t be an election without someone complaining about a flawed and unfair process, now would it?
The most vocal and angriest critic is Dwight Howard, who says the league’s decision to drop the center position from the ballots for the All-Star Game constitutes voter fraud. Howard says the switcheroo unfairly targets big men who aren’t necessarily flashy but deserve to be honored anyway -- and just imagine, if Howard was this forceful in his convictions last spring, we would’ve been spared the Dwightmare of him flip-flopping in Orlando.
He said: “I don’t think it’s fair to take away a position which has been here for life. You need a center on the court. So I don’t think it’s right. That’s like taking away a guard.”
Hearing Howard rant on about the voting only proves that he plays in All-Star games instead of actually watching them. Because if he did, he’d see what we often see: the occasional lumbering, plodding big man who gets the honor of slowing down an exciting game, all because the old rules guaranteed a true center on each team.
Well, thankfully, we don’t have to worry about that anymore. In the past the fans had to vote for two forwards and one center. The new rule designates all of them as frontcourt players, meaning, if three forwards are more deserving based on performance, then a starting team will get three forwards.
It’s rare when the league makes a rule change and gets it right, but this is one of those times. It reflects the realities of today’s game, where quality centers are scarce and forwards are as abundant as plastic surgeons in Hollywood, or the zeros on Howard’s paycheck.
It’s a victory for such players as Josh Smith, who likely would’ve played in last year’s game but was squeezed out of his chance to finally be an All-Star because of the center designation. And who went to the game instead? Al Horford, his Hawks teammate, a steady player but not as talented or as fun to watch as J-Smoove. And besides, even Horford considers himself a power forward who only plays center out of necessity.
Also, in the past you had Tim Duncan and Kevin Garnett officially listed as forwards. In reality, they were their team’s centers. They’d get voted to the game, and deservedly so, but would also take spots away from other, more natural forwards in what was (and still is) a stacked position.
Stu Jackson, the league’s VP of operations, said center was the only designated position on the ballot and it had become “outdated” and made for an increasingly awkward process. By being a bit more vague about the positions, the East or West team can have two starting point guards, for example, or two starting small forwards and a power forward. Or three power forwards and two shooting guards. Any mix is legal.
And someday if the moons are realigned and functional seven-footers suddenly overtake the league -- fat chance, I know -- there could be two or even three starting centers as well, because again, there’s no ban on centers or limits on them, either.
“It’s not a flashy position,” Howard said. “You never see a center on ‘SportsCenter’ shooting a fadeaway. It’s always the guards. Those are the highlights everyone wants to see.”
Well, um, yeah. That’s exactly the point here.
Keep in mind the game is for the fans and their enjoyment, not for centers who want to upgrade their resumes and their leverage in their next contract negotiations. Therefore, the game should have the three best frontcourt and two best backcourt players on the floor, regardless of their specific designations, if for no other reason than for entertainment purposes. The All-Star Game is a showpiece, not a slowpiece.
If centers want to be recognized, well, that’s what the All-NBA teams are for. Nobody’s taking that away from them. It’s a higher honor, anyway. There’s no fan voting involved, no politics, no fraud. Totally legit.
It’s strange that Howard is up in arms about this. He’s the one center who’s almost guaranteed not to be affected by the change. Now, in the East, on the other hand, assuming Andrew Bynum doesn’t return fully healthy or play enough games to be considered, the starting center would be Roy Hibbert under the old rules. He actually played in last year’s game. With the revamped guidelines, he might not see another.
The one sure-fire way for centers to get their respect is to upgrade their game. Fans aren’t stupid. They wouldn’t deny a great center. For several years Shaquille O’Neal was among the leading vote-getters, and not only because there was a large gap between him and the next-best center in his conference. Once upon a time, he played in the East along with Alonzo Mourning, who was always the odd center out in the voting. Under today’s rules, Mourning would actually benefit. The East team would have two starting centers.
Anyway, nobody has anything against centers, who will always be at a premium because the watered-down NBA has too many teams and not enough talented big men to go around. Nobody’s underestimating their value, their rebounds, their ability to get inside buckets or block shots. We just don’t want to be forced to see them in the All-Star game just because they’re centers. And certainly not at the expense of any small or power forward who, pound for pound and inch for inch, is better.
I know, I know. Dwight Howard is only speaking up for the centers who are pretty good but just aren’t as good as he is. He’s looking out for the “little” big guy. Instead, he should challenge them to rise to his level and play their way into the fans’ affections and onto the team. Become a force. Be recognized for it. Make the All-Star game.
And when you do, please don’t fumble the no-look behind-the-back alley-oop pass when it comes your way on the break.