Don’t disenfranchise foreign NBA fans

In lieu of discussing more serious matters (Citizens United, health care, “Jersey Shore”), I’d like to direct your attention to the pressing issue of NBA All Star voting. After Tracy McGrady’s hobbled corpse nearly made the West’s starting line-up and serial retiree Allen Iverson was voted in as an Eastern Conference starter,  diehard fans and some media commentators have vigorously complained about the NBA’s selection guidelines. As things stand, fans pick the starters and coaches select substitutes, but critics charge that fan voting privileges celebrity over on-court accomplishment (witness AI beating out more deserving guards like Rajon Rondo or Joe Johnson).

Fans are, of course, fans, and anyone who’s ever listened to a Laker enthusiast insist that Kobe is still – still – better than LeBron knows that rationality has very little to do with All Star voting. So if the Association decides to place the All Star line-up in the hands of coaches or media personalities, I won’t complain too loudly. One counter-proposal, however, raises my hackles:

That doesn’t mean it can’t be tweaked. Enter the league’s resident idea man, Mark Cuban. The Mavericks’ owner offered an alternative to keep the vote in the hands of the fans, but with some fans counting more than others.

“I’m a big believer that votes inside the arena should count double those on the Internet,” Cuban said.

Web and mobile voting, especially from outside North America, are often cited when players such as Tracy McGrady and Allen Iverson are in the running to start when their performance suggests otherwise. Those who actually spend their money to attend NBA games may not necessarily be “bigger” fans than those who don’t, but why not add a little incentive to those who show up?

The unspoken assumption behind all this is that McGrady’s candidacy was propelled by Chinese voters , who have rabidly supported the Houston Rockets since the franchise drafted Yao Ming.

As I said earlier, taking All Star voting out of the hands of easily-excitable fans does not strike me as a terrible idea. But discriminating against one irrational fan base in favor of other irrational fans who happen to have access to tickets is incredibly unfair.

Cuban would like you to think that buying a ticket is a reliable proxy for basketball knowledge. A more likely explanation is that your ability to purchase NBA tickets is contingent upon a) your location in a town with a franchise and b) your financial situation. Neither factor says much about your level of interest in the game.

Fan voting is supposed to encourage broader audience participation. Freezing out entire demographics because they can’t get tickets is absolutely innimical to that goal (not to mention counter-productive to the NBA’s broader aim of expanding its overseas fanbase). If you want All Stars to be selected by basketball experts, fine. But don’t systematically devalue the votes of those of us who can’t make it out to the games on a regular basis.

On a related note, is this the best stretch of pro basketball in recent memory? A few days ago, I linked to this analysis of a football telecast that compressed an entire game down to 11 minutes of action (commenter “Bo” pointed out a similar article on baseball). Pace is integral to both games (I’d argue that delays often do more to build tension than the actual plays), but said articles really make you appreciate the athletic fluidity of a game like basketball, which is currently enjoying an incredible crop of savvy veterans and emerging talent.

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One thought on “Don’t disenfranchise foreign NBA fans

  1. Bill James, in discussing baseball’s All-Star Game, presented what I think is a great idea: Have the ballot locations divvied up like the Electoral College.
    http://blogs.lancasteronline.com/mikegross/2010/01/23/ai-for-all-star/
    “In the 1980s, Bill James suggested changing baseball’s all-star voting by creating voting precincts, one for each major-league city, with all votes counting only toward the precinct total. First place in each precinct would be worth 16 points (in the NL, 14 in the AL), second place worth 15, third place 14 and so on.”
    Obviously, you could make Asia, Europe and America at large precincts of their own.

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