Gilgeous-Alexander All-Star starting shaft highlights the need to change voting process

OKC Thunder guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (2) is defended by Kings guard De'Aaron Fox: Sergio Estrada-USA TODAY Sports
OKC Thunder guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (2) is defended by Kings guard De'Aaron Fox: Sergio Estrada-USA TODAY Sports /
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OKC Thunder
LeBron James: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports /

Popularity is a catch-22

Teams who are featured regularly on National TV get ample coverage. Ditto for the sports shows that seldom go a single day without discussing one of the Lakers, Clippers, Nets, Knicks, Celtics, or Warriors.

Why? Because those are the big markets and they appeal to large sponsors. Earlier this season, the OKC Thunder appeared in a last-minute scheduling change on TNT. It was a huge deal for the players (and the fan base) who hadn’t been featured on any of the national networks (ESPN, ABC, TNT) in almost three seasons.

In fairness, the OKC Thunder were rebuilding the last two seasons but this year the young roster one of the more pleasant surprises. Even in their losses, this team offers an exciting brand of basketball and never gives up regardless of the score.

While the media dog piled onto the franchise stating they expected the Thunder to be abysmal this season some (like Zach Lowe) have backtracked and apologized for those early takes. Yet, in spite of the Cinderella season, the Thunder are delivering they are rarely known outside of the fanbase or by BBall nerds who follow the entire league because of the lack of exposure.

When Adam Silver spouts rhetoric about the elite teams being rewarded, that’s only partially true. The Grizzlies and Pelicans witnessed an uptake in national games this season for example. But that’s also because they have Ja Morant and Zion Williamson – – two stars the league promoted from the moment they were drafted.

If Silver was truly rewarding performance then the Kings, Pacers, Jazz (and even the Nuggets) would be featured but they also are seldomly featured in national games.

In contrast, the 13th-ranked Lakers barely go a week without a nationally televised game nor will they. LA could be the 30th-ranked team in the association and will always be shown.

Moreover, shows like First Take, NBA Today, and other sports programs dedicate DAILY segments to the Lakers. And on the days they aren’t the main talking point it’s the Nets, Warriors, or Celtics who replace them.

And therein lies the initial problem with letting All-Star voting rest on popularity – it’s a false narrative. Casual fans are familiar with the above quartet but most couldn’t even tell you who plays for the OKC Thunder.

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander might be the lone exception. Again, the BBall stans and nerds know who SGA is and the phenomenal season he’s delivering. They also probably know who Josh Giddey and Jalen Williams are simply because they listen to a wealth of podcasts, read key writers, and stay up to speed.

But I’m talking about the casual fans who vote for the All-Star Games. Had Charles Barkley not made a big deal about SGA repeatedly on Inside the NBA he probably draws far fewer votes.

The bottom line is to be voted into the All-Star Game as a starter you need to be popular but to achieve that type of popularity you need to be seen — it’s a catch-22.