The ballots for the annual popularity contest known as the NBA All-Star Game were released last week. As in the past, NBA fans from around the world get to vote for their favorite players to decide who will be the ten starters for each conference. All the usual suspects like Kobe Bryant and Dwyane Wade are among the 120 players listed on the ballots. But one notable name is missing: rookie Yi Jianlian.
Based on what many in the media have said about Yi - this column included - readers might assume Yi already has his ticket stamped for the Hall of Fame.
True, the Bucks' power forward has impressed in his first several games as he has silenced many preseason naysayers. But let's face it - his performance so far has hardly been All-Star caliber, and despite legitimate flashes of potential, Yi still has a long way to go and a lot to learn.
All-Star ballots, furthermore, rarely boast many rookies, and rookies that are included are hardly ever chosen anyway. Although Yao Ming broke the mold in his rookie campaign, famously beating out All-Star incumbent Shaquille O'Neal as the Western Conference's starting center in 2003, his was a special case and was fueled by Chinese fan's fevered excitement at the chance to vote for one of their own. Not even Cleveland phenom LeBron James was an All-Star in his first year.
Titan Sports claims that Yi's omission from the ballot is due to "NBA fears" that a rookie playing in the All-Star game will sully the game's image, but this is an unfounded accusation. All-Star ballots are drawn up weeks before the season begins, and with Yi's ambivalence about playing for Milwaukee over the summer, no one knew for sure if he'd even be playing for the team, let alone playing so well.
It is true that if Yi's name was on the ballot he would almost certainly be voted in, riding a similar wave of support from the world's most populous nation like Yao did. It's just as well that Yi sits out this year - there will be plenty of All-Star games to come for the young Buck.
Yi himself hardly cares about the alleged "snub", choosing instead to focus on winning in the regular season, a characteristically mature stance for the young man. He is all but guaranteed a trip to All-Star weekend in New Orleans anyway since he's a virtual lock to play in the rookie-sophomore game, which precedes the big event.
Regardless, China will undoubtedly be represented in February since Yao Ming will most likely be voted as the West's starting center once again. He got the most votes of anyone in the league last year, and with the way he's playing this year he deserves to retain his title.
Source: China Daily