On Thursday evening, the NBA will announce who coaches have selected to be reserves in the 2014 NBA All-Star Game. Depending on whose names are called, the moment will represent a validation of continued excellence, an acknowledgment of their arrival or a nod to years of unrewarded grind.
That's the real problem with the whole exercise and how we argue for and against certain players. Being an All-Star means no one discreet thing.
Trust that you, me and everyone else with a pulse and an interest in the sport will be arguing about snubs and questionable inclusions. Heck, we argued about the Rising Stars Challenge rosters on Wednesday. (#LetBenPlay, Silver.) But as we brawl over DeMarcus Cousins, Damian Lillard, Tim Duncan, Arron Afflalo and DeMar DeRozan, let's not lose sight of the fact that this honor means something different to all parties.
For the young players, that first All-Star nod is a coronation. Consider Paul George's entry last year. When he made the team, everyone knew it would be the first major honor of many. It's so exciting to witness a young star rise, to stand with LeBron, Carmelo, Durant, Kobe and the other living legends of the game, to wear those warm-ups while some band or DJ pumps a steady beat into an arena filled with corporate suits looking for pitchmen and celebrity fans hoping the camera swings their way. For guys like Anthony Davis -- who might be a future MVP -- we want to just get the recognition started already. It's obvious he'll be an All-Star many times. Acknowledge that, and let's celebrate him in front of the home crowd in New Orleans.
Then there are the legends on their way out, like Tim Duncan and Dirk Nowitzki, each of whom is hoping for the call in the West (actually, we can't be so sure Duncan actually wants to be put on the roster, especially since Gregg Popovich isn't coaching the West). To many of us, having a 30-something with a list of serious accolades (MVPs, championships, Finals MVPs, gold medals) on the All-Star team is superfluous, irrelevant. Guys like Duncan and Dirk aren't exactly must-see All-Star participants; their games beautiful in serious basketball competitions, but not track meet dunk-and-deep three festivals. So why include them?
But consider what the All-Star nod means to them. It's an acknowledgment from the NBA's coaches that despite their age, despite their wear, despite the presence of these young whippersnappers coming after their jobs, their trophies, these legends are still kicking ass. That their hard work has paid off, that they have refused to go quietly in the night, that they still matter at the sport's highest level. An All-Star nod to a well-decorated player in his mid-30s isn't a lifetime achievement award, it's a salute to someone fighting off inevitability. And that's absolutely something worth celebrating.
Now we turn to the grinders, the players who probably don't have many individual awards -- maybe a Most Improved, maybe a Sixth Man -- and aren't likely to repeat as All-Stars. The Kyle Lowrys, the Arron Afflalos. In previous years, guys like Tyson Chandler, Gerald Wallace and Jameer Nelson. Players you wouldn't ever call stars until they actually made the All-Star team ... and even then maybe you feel a little TMZ when you drop that moniker. Lowry and Afflalo aren't like Davis, whose stardom is inevitable. They are good players in situations that play to their individual strengths. They are hitting their peaks, hitting their strides, hitting important statistic standards. After years of grinding, sometimes in relatively anonymity, they are putting it all together on an individual level and are in the conversation.
More on the All-Star Game
More on the All-Star Game
And why shouldn't they be? Who cares if years from now future basketball hipsters joke about any Afflalo All-Star jersey being a collector's item, or comparing Lowry to the infamous Jamaal Magloire? These players have worked hard not just to stay in the league and collect their considerable paychecks, but to be better, to perform, to thrive. Hell yeah they should be rewarded for that. What's the problem with recognizing the hardest working guys who meet reasonable standards of inclusion?
All the types of potential All-Stars deserve to be recognized, but the limited number of slots available makes the honor special and difficult. Once you account for the starters (including the 1-2 every year who don't belong) and the obvious, unarguable perma-stars (LaMarcus Aldridge, James Harden) you have ridiculously few spots left. Someone -- the inevitable star of the future, the living legend, the veteran grinder -- is going to get snubbed. Fans of the snubbed (including in some cases teammates, coaches and GMs) will attempt to document the injustice by attacking the credentials of a player chosen for the team. I will do it, and chances are you will do it, too. It is our nature, and having opinions is inextricable from the human experience. Defending our opinions is something we all do on a daily basis.
But consider this a plea. In making those arguments, understand that there are valid reasons to honor all stripes of All-Stars. No narrative is more deserving. This is why I personally support using stats as much as possible in deciding any award -- it helps strip out the feels, which can tug in any direction based on the quality of the argument being presented.
Nothing is ever truly objective, but the closer we can get, the more comfortable I feel in advocating for one type of All-Star over another.