NBA eyes 'fresh look' at All-Star fan voting via social media

Ball Don't Lie

Just about every year, when we get to midseason, NBA writers, pundits, coaches and assorted other league watchers find ourselves confronted by the reality that someone — maybe one player, maybe multiple players — coming off a brilliant start to the season has been aced out for a starting spot in the NBA All-Star Game by a player who might not have performed quite as well, but who has a larger base of supporters able to stuff the ballot box and tilt the totals. And after the outrage and chatter about which players got the short end of the stick, nothing much happens.

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It appears, though, that this time was a bit too cynical. According to Sam Amick of USA TODAY, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver has heard enough grumbling about the fans getting it wrong — from former players, from current players, from current players' moms, and more — to convince him to reconsider the way the league figures out who starts the annual exhibition:

Silver, who was a speaker at the Total Health Forum in which the NBA partnered with Kaiser Permanente to discuss the importance of fitness and diet, said afterward that the evolution of social media has affected fan voting enough that the league will reevaluate the current system.

“On (fan) balloting, it’s something we’ll continue to look at,” Silver said. ”We love the fact that fans have input into who the All-Stars are. As social media changes the world and is disruptive, it’s been mildly disruptive to our balloting systems as well. I know that’s something we’ll take a fresh look.”

Adam Silver plans to adress social media disruption in fan voting. (AP/Mark Lennihan)
Adam Silver plans to adress social media disruption in fan voting. (AP/Mark Lennihan)

"Mildly disruptive to our balloting systems" is a pretty neat way of saying, "Zaza Pachulia almost started the All-Star Game thanks to Wyclef Jean, a Vine celebrity and a strong showing from the Republic of Georgia."

That's the unintended consequence of opening up voting to a marketplace where one use of the hashtag #NBAvote along with a player's name on any of a number of social media platforms constitutes one ballot cast. Suddenly, one person with millions of followers — Justin Bieber, Drake, Nash Grier, many others — can not only cast their one ballot, but use the signal-boosting power of their millions-wide reach to generate many thousands more votes for their chosen candidate.

To some degree, Zaza's shocking rocket ride up the ranks of Western Conference frontcourt players represents the natural extension of humble early-support-stoking efforts like Chris Bosh putting on a cowboy hat and bolo tie to campaign back in 2008 and the Minnesota Timberwolves coming up with a fake fragrance to promote the production of Kevin Love in 2011. If players and leagues can launch campaigns to get out the vote, why can't other big brands do the same?

To borrow a line of argument from one of the most important piece of art in motion-picture history:

... except, in this case, replace "dog can't play basketball" with "Internet-famous person can't exhort his/her followers to re-share hashtag-bearing messages that alter voting numbers." Same thing, basically, and man, now that I think about it, I cannot believe that nobody tried to vote Air Bud into a starting spot in Toronto this year.

On one hand, you might not see this as a big problem for the league — more big-name vote-mongers getting more fans to vote just drives up the level of social media engagement the NBA's able to generate around one of its major tentpole events, and might even find itself drawing in new fans who might otherwise not have been particularly invested in a mid-February exhibition game. (Provided, of course, the boatloads of votes in question are being cast by actual people and not automated scripts/bots, which would be a horse of a different color.)

On the other, though, such heavy-handed shifting of vote totals could have very real implications for players with incentive clauses in their contracts tied to All-Star appearances; for example, due to the provisions of the "Derrick Rose Rule" included in the 2011 collective bargaining agreement, getting bumped out of an All-Star start could wind up costing New Orleans Pelicans star Anthony Davis a cool $23 million of potential income from the five-year maximum contract extension he signed last summer. That, as Clinton Yates of the Washington Post notes, creates not only "a farcical situation" surrounding All-Star voting, but also a very serious problem for players and their teams, who could wind up with some very disgruntled employees on their hands due to an inability to successfully outcampaign a social media personality with some time on his hands and a direct line to seven or eight million fans.

In essence, then, the NBA — and NHL, and MLB, and so on — have opened Pandora's box in search of ever-greater social media activation, and now bosses like Silver are left trying to figure out how to either close the lid ... or, at least, figure out how to get all the evil spirits they let out to do their bidding. From Ray Ratto of Comcast SportsNet Bay Area:

[...] the bigger picture remains this: The Internet has spoken on fan voting, gotten the vote out, and the leagues are sudden realizing what they have loosed upon themselves. Thus, they either have to get heavily involved in gaming the system and even the actual voting (“Your Vote Counts Unless We Don’t Like It”), let the fans have their way (“Vote For Your Mom, What Do We Care?”), or simply accept that the All-Star Game has literally nothing to do with merit and should be completely ignored when determining a player’s qualifications.

Which would make it kind of a crap TV event, like so many others.

Frankly, B is the best, most reasonable and publicly acceptable option, at least until the fan/pranksters rise up and seize control of the entire rosters, filling the All-Star teams with Scotts and Pachulias and Urrutias until the entire system collapses under the weight of a nation’s well-aimed scorn.

Silver, it seems, doesn't share the beloved Miserablist's affection for anarchy, and will look for ways to continue to give fans a voice while keep the process free of thumb-on-the-scales intervention. Finding out how the commish plans to thread that particular needle ought to be at least as fascinating as watching Zaza Nation rise up as one.

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Dan Devine is an editor for Ball Don't Lie on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at devine@yahoo-inc.com or follow him on Twitter!

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