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Take Your Pick

Being selected an NBA All-Star is a crapshoot wrapped in a popularity contest based on a snapshot—and it's also an honor that follows a player for life

A FEW WEEKS ago Warriors shooting guard Klay Thompson discussed the possibility of being chosen as a reserve on the NBA All-Star team. "I'm not thinking about it," lied Thompson. "If it happens, it happens."

This is the public stance of most NBA players. Who me? Couldn't care one way or the other about being named one of the two dozen best at my profession. I'd rather be on a beach. It's a defense mechanism, of course, but that doesn't mean it's not comically disingenuous (to Thompson's credit, he also called an All-Star nod "a great feat"). Which makes what Trail Blazers guard Damian Lillard (previous page, right) did a few days later refreshing. While Thompson ended up being chosen by coaches as one of the Western Conference reserves, Lillard—an All-Star in '14 and a possible MVP candidate this year—was not. So he took to social media. "I'd be lying if I said I wasn't disappointed or that I don't feel disrespected but it's not too much to handle," he wrote on Instagram. "Not the first or last guy to be snubbed."

Lillard's right about one thing. He's not the first guy to be snubbed. Some research suggests that would be Jack Coleman, back at the first NBA All-Star Game, in 1951. All Coleman, a savvy 6' 7" forward, did that season was finish fourth in the league in field goal percentage, 10th in rebounds and 18th in assists while starting for the champion Rochester Royals. And yet when 20 players were chosen to gather at Boston Garden on a cold March night, Coleman wasn't one of them. Times were different, but that doesn't change how a man feels. Coleman passed away in 1997, but Jack L. Coleman Jr. says, "I think it always bothered my dad a bit."

Sixty years from now, will Lillard's kids remember this year's omission? Who knows? But the power of the All-Star nod is strong. Just as journalists who receive a Pulitzer have "Pulitzer Prize winner" attached like a prefix to their names, an NBA All-Star will forever carry the honorific. Sure, Christian Laettner's NBA career was disappointing, but he's still "All-Star forward Christian Laettner" to you (1997). Tyrone Hill, Jamaal Magloire, Mehmet Okur? All All-Stars (1995, 2004, 2007, respectively), even though Andre Miller, who has more career assists than all but eight players, has never made a team. No one need know that Laettner (first page, left) lost the starting job on his own team, the Hawks, less than a season after being selected, or that Magloire never averaged more than 13.6 points. They are, now and forever, All-Stars.

Making one of the three All-NBA teams should carry more weight—it's based on 82 games and removes the skewing effect of fans, who vote in All-Star starters—but being announced as "All-NBA third team forward" doesn't feel the same. Instead, we venerate a partial-season award. Oscar nominations aren't handed out based on the first half of movies, and yet All-Stars must only put in a good half season. Or, in the case of Kevin Durant, who was chosen as a reserve this year despite playing only 21 games, a good quarter season.

All this leads to a spirited annual debate. How important should star power be? Should a player's career and recent history factor in? Are coaches judging based on a players' value to his team or to the All-Star squad? And why not choose the best players overall, rather than doing it by the arbitrary distinction of conferences?

Good questions all, but not ones the original organizers gave much thought. When NBA publicist Haskell Cohen conceived the All-Star Game, it was meant as a diversion from the college basketball point-shaving scandals of the day and viewed as such a poor idea that, according to the NBA Encyclopedia, commissioner Maurice Podoloff wanted to cancel it. If it weren't for Celtics owner Walter Brown, who promised to cover expenses and losses, it wouldn't have happened. As for the All-Stars, they were chosen by sportswriters who, in that pre-TV era, could have seen only a handful of out-of-town players. When 10,000-plus fans showed up, everyone rejoiced.

Except Jack Coleman. He did ultimately make an All-Star team, in 1955, but old snubs die hard. Decades later Jack Jr. wrote to the NBA and asked the league to reconsider the '51 All-Star snub. He never heard back, but he hasn't given up hope. "People say I'm not objective about it," he says. "But I looked at the numbers, and [my dad] earned the right to be there." In the end, as for Lillard, that knowledge will have to suffice.

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