In October, 2012, the NBA, in its infinite wisdom, decried that the center position would no longer get its own vote on the All-Star ballot.
That didn't go far enough.
In fact, there should be no positional specificity at all. Just 10 guys on the floor, going at it.
Sound crazy? There may be historical precedent, at least according to everything I could find about the first All-Star Game. There’s no indication players were selected with regard to position for that seminal 1951 event.
Investigating the veracity of this leads through a labyrinth of old articles, confirming that sportswriters and media experts did the balloting and that players earned $100 cash for their efforts. We also know that the early All-NBA teams used a positionless format.
Transcribed from an original 1951 All-Star program:
Selections of tonight’s glittering array of talent was made by the men who watch and cover all of the NBA games—the press, the radiocasters and the television experts. Throughout the cities in the NBA, the men who have seen them, all made their choice of the two squads, plus alternates for each team. No one city could select a player on the home team and each city sent into the New York Office of the Association just the one consensus vote.
What's missing from that explanation of the selection process? Any hint of positional requirement.
Additionally, player bios in the program didn't include positions, nor did narration from the first game. Watch the original footage as players are introduced—guys like Easy Ed Macauley, Tricky Dick McGuire and Bob Cousy with his “wonderful brand of dribbling.”
Before further exploring a back-to-the future concept for All-Star balloting, what’s wrong with things as they are?
For one, the recent rules change has resulted in some unforeseen consequences with fans voting for three “frontcourt” players instead of voting for two forwards and a center.
According to an article by David Aldridge for the NBA in 2012, “the definition of 'center' was becoming increasingly difficult—not to mention finding enough quality big men for whom to vote.”
The NBA has increasingly moved toward a faster, showier and less physical brand of ball in recent years, and this is just one more validation of a systematic remaking of what was once a game of fundamentals.
In fact, Dwight Howard, still regarded as the league's most dominant big man, won't be a starter at this year’s All-Star Game.
He will surely make his eighth consecutive All-Star team (assuming the Western Conference coaches rightly select him as one of seven reserves). He will not, however, start the game for the first time since his All-Star debut in 2007 when Shaquille O’Neal still ruled the roost in the East with the Miami Heat
The All-Star games have never really embraced the idea of five separate voting positions—it’s about frontcourt and backcourt, and apparently, the NBA didn’t feel it was fair to everyone else on the court to keep allotting a special slot for centers only.
Meanwhile, in the Eastern Conference, LeBron James, Paul George and Carmelo Anthony are your three starting frontcourt players, and somewhere in that mix would be a guy that can fill the center position—at least for a few minutes until one of the reserves can be thrown in.
This apparently wasn't anticipated as a problem in 2012. As Stu Jackson for the NBA explains, in the same Aldridge article:
It made sense to our Competition Committee. Having a center is the only specific position that was singled out on the ballot. It just seemed a little outdated and didn't represent the way our game has evolved. By the same token, it also affords the same opportunity, if you have two good centers in a given year, pick 'em both. They both can be selected. Which is impossible right now.
The game of basketball has increasingly been driven by innovators like Donnie Nelson and then Mike D’Antoni, favoring what’s now known as “small ball,” placing a high premium on an uptempo game in which the ball finds its own energy.
In other words, wily stretch 4s have taken the place of a lot of traditional low-post players. Not always, but increasingly so. So why not go back to the era of the original positionless basketball, and if someday, somebody actually finds a smoking gun proving that centers actually were insisted on way back in the day, then so what? We're all about exploring a brave new world here!
Just imagine the possibilities in future years as teams around the league continue to shift and change, and fans continue to vote their hearts, free from the unreasonable fetters of logic. You could wind up with five tentpole centers going against five speedy mini-guards. Or, 10 starting guards. Why should fan favorites miss the bus, simply because they are assigned a label?
The game of basketball is changing, and that’s probably how it should be. It’s faster, and many would say, more fun. There’s a larger premium placed on outside shooting now—it’s just so pretty when the ball hits nothing but net from way outside the arc, and if you can have a 7-footer heaving it from out there, then so much the better.
Of course, the recent perceived Howard snub could get those in the rules committee scratching their heads again and attempting to stick one more bandage on top of all the others. Perhaps the old argument about the center position existing for a fundamental reason will return, that it serves an essential purpose. But the tall ships have sailed away.
What’s left then? Fun, entertainment, exciting basketball and an All-Star weekend that serves as an escape from too many injuries, too many lost hopes and sometimes, too many rules and regulations.
The NBA didn't go far enough when they cut out the center position in the balloting. Let's just rip off the bandage and start fresh.