All Star Starters: Kobe Yes, Dwight No


Feb 17, 2013; Houston, TX, USA; Eastern Conference forward Carmelo Anthony (middle) of the New York Knicks passes the ball away from Western Conference center Dwight Howard (12) and Western Conference guard Kobe Bryant (24) of the Los Angeles Lakers in the second quarter of the 2013 NBA all star game at the Toyota Center. Mandatory Credit: Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

We know fan voting is a popularity contest. It is rigged by those invisible faces in China or Turkey or wherever the NBA has blown up overseas. We know the selection of the starters has no direct link to who is having the most dynamic season, who is actually deserving. It is more of a who do we like selection, who do we want to see.

Despite having played 6 games and averaging 13 points Kobe is still desired by a large quantity of NBA fans who just want to see him make an appearance, even if it is a cameo. That is how much he is beloved. Dwight Howard not so much. He has lost a great deal of affection primarily because he has changed the narrative of himself, not in terms of his talent and ability and achievement, he rebounds, he blocks shots, he makes the occasional jump hook. But he is no longer the guy who you root for, who you want to see win, who you want to see in an exhibition game. In fact the opposite is true as evidenced by the All Star votes for starters. Dwight Howard, the best center in the NBA, is not wanted by NBA fans to start their All Star game.

If it was based on equity- it is not- if it was an unbiased system- it is not- if it was about achievement and performance- it is not- Dwight Howard would be a leading vote getter. But this is simply about love, about loving certain players, and liking other players and rejecting others. Dwight could not muster up enough votes to pass Kevin Love. Think about that. Five years ago Dwight Howard received over 3 million fan votes which was the first time in NBA All-Star History a player had that many votes. Not Magic. Not Jordan. Not Lebron. Not Kobe. No player had ever received three million votes. This year he could not get more than 660,000 votes, a 80% decline from the year he went to the NBA Finals. It does not take long for the mighty to fall, or in Dwight’s case to crash. Simply the public does not view him the same way they once did. Everything about Dwight Howard is nostalgic.

Of course you can expect Dwight Howard to say the politically correct talking points when he is asked about the fans rejection of him. Expect Dwight Howard to congratulate Kevin Love, to be polite about his becoming an All Star. But make no mistake, this stings. Howard is the best center in the Western Conference and he got beat out by a forward. Imagine if Shaq was beat out by Elton Brand.

Four years ago Dwight’s career seemed destined for global iconic status. He had the basketball world in the palm of his hand as he recreated the Superman mythology and won the dunk contest in a stirring, dramatic performance. He was a different sort of NBA player, not the driven, passionate, super genius, the ruthless player that seemed to dominate the mainstream media since Jordan legitimized winning at all costs. Dwight was the anti-Kobe. The anti-Lebron. He did not take the game and himself seriously. He knew what we knew, at the end of the day this was a game and this was a celebration and besides ordinary people do harder things with their lives, they dig for coal, they dig for oil, they lay tile. Dwight with his incredible smile was a magnet for those who were put off by the death stare and relentless humiliation of the mediocre and who bragged about it- he was not that guy. Dwight cared about laughter and being happy and in a way it rubbed off on us. Until it was annoying.

This is true. Just because a wound is self inflicted does not mean it cannot hurt. A series of missteps for Dwight was the beginning of it all. An immature way of looking at his time in Orlando. His wanting to please other people. The desire to play in Brooklyn- no stay in Orlando- no go to Brooklyn. It wore everyone down and made them dizzy.

And then he came to Los Angeles. He came to the Lakers and more importantly he was delivered to their fans as someone special who would carry on the impressive lineage of dominant stars. And yet a lot of Dwight Howard was the antithesis of what Lakers are used to, there was something about him that was ordinary. He could be petulant, and rebellious and petulant and childlike. Worse, he did not embrace, understand or respect the Lakers history and in doing so he alienated the fans who live all over the world and who vote for innocuous things like All Star starters, who come to games in the Phillipines and boo him for dismissing them, who won’t forget what he did when he turned his back on the storied history of the Lakers. He became their enemy, they became devoted in thwarting him.

Dwight will get to the All Star game in New Orleans. The coaches will vote him in as a reserve. He deserves to be there, 18 points, 12 rebounds, almost 2 blocks a game. But the beauty of it all is that he and Kobe will not have to be on the court together. Kobe will have to play, the league demands it, otherwise he has a two game financial penalty. But the two or three minutes Kobe is out there Dwight will have to watch on the bench. So, really, there is justice in the world.