LeBron James joined yet another exclusive club, and he’ll have plenty of familiar faces alongside him at this season’s NBA All-Star Game.
James is now an All-Star — and an All-Star starter — for the 20th time, with the league unveiling the results of this season’s starter balloting on Thursday night. James is the first 20-time All-Star in NBA history. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, whose career scoring record was broken by James last season, was a 19-time selection.
This year’s game is Feb. 18 in Indianapolis.
Joining James in the Western Conference starting lineup: Phoenix’s Kevin Durant, Denver’s Nikola Jokic, Dallas’ Luka Doncic and Oklahoma City’s Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, the league’s leader in 30-point games this season who edged perennial All-Star starter Stephen Curry of Golden State for the final West backcourt spot. Durant is a 14-time selection now, one of only 11 players in NBA history to be picked that many times.
In the Eastern Conference, Milwaukee’s Giannis Antetokounmpo will be joined by Boston’s Jayson Tatum and Philadelphia’s Joel Embiid — the reigning NBA MVP, two-time defending scoring champion and current NBA scoring leader — in the frontcourt. Tatum set an All-Star Game record last season, scoring 55 points in the contest at Salt Lake City on the way to MVP honors.
The East guards are Indiana’s Tyrese Haliburton — who’ll be a starter on his home floor — and Milwaukee’s Damian Lillard.
“You never want to take it for granted, right?” Tatum told TNT, which broadcast the unveiling of the starters before Boston’s game in Miami. “There’s 450 guys in the league and for the fans to consistently vote me, it’s truly an honor. It’s something I don’t take for granted. I grew up wanting to be in All-Star weekend every year and to live out that dream in real time is pretty cool.”
Among the notables not picked as starters: Curry, Boston’s Jaylen Brown, New York’s Jalen Brunson, Atlanta’s Trae Young, Cleveland’s Donovan Mitchell, Miami’s Bam Adebayo, the Los Angeles Lakers’ Anthony Davis, Orlando’s Paolo Banchero, Sacramento’s De’Aaron Fox, Phoenix’s Devin Booker, the Los Angeles Clippers’ Kawhi Leonard, Philadelphia’s Tyrese Maxey and Minnesota’s Anthony Edwards.
The starters are selected through a formula where fan voting counts for 50%, voting by players themselves counts for 25% and voting by a panel of writers and broadcasters who cover the NBA counts for the other 25%. Antetokounmpo was the top overall vote-getter, collecting about 5.4 million from fans.
“Thanks to the fans, media and most importantly my peers for voting me into my 14th all star game,” Durant wrote on social media. “Can’t wait to lock in and hoop with some of the greatest ever in Indy.”
The reserves, to be announced on Feb. 1, are chosen in a vote of the league’s head coaches. Any additions to the rosters, should a player be unable to participate because of injury or another reason, will be made by Commissioner Adam Silver.
There are very few players in the U.S. major pro sports to be selected as an All-Star, or its equivalent, in 20 different seasons. James is the first to have that distinction in the NBA. He joins hockey’s Gordie Howe and a trio of baseball players — Hank Aaron, Willie Mays and Stan Musial — on that list.
Howe was a 23-time pick for the NHL All-Star Game. Aaron was a Major League Baseball All-Star in 21 different seasons, while Mays and Musial were in 20 seasons each. Mickey Mantle played in 20 baseball All-Star games over 16 seasons as a selection; some baseball seasons featured two All-Star contests.
This year’s All-Star Game goes back to the traditional East vs. West format, which was utilized in the first 66 NBA midseason classics. The most recent six saw the leading vote-getters from each conference serve as captains who got to draft their teams; James served as one of the captains all six times, with Antetokounmpo the other captain three times, Durant twice and Curry once.
But that format is gone, as is the ‘target score’ format that featured an untimed fourth quarter in the last four All-Star Games. The winner of those games was the first team to reach whatever the leading team had after three quarters, plus 24 points — the 24 being a nod to Kobe Bryant’s last jersey number. This year, it’ll be a regular game with overtime if necessary.
League officials said entering the season that they have been stressing to players the importance of improving the quality of the All-Star Game. According to SportsMediaWatch, last year’s game averaged around 4.6 million viewers across TNT and TBS — the lowest number since that stat started being collected.
“When you turn on an NBA All-Star Game, I think people expect to see some competition,” Joe Dumars, the league’s executive vice president and head of basketball operations said as the season started.