“Don’t blame me, I voted for [insert name here]” is a common phrase uttered after elections to describe a feeling of helplessness at your candidate not being elected. You might similarly bring it out when the elected official does something particularly stupid.
The NBA All-Star ballots came out this week and I’m hoping you’ll all follow my lead in just saying “no” to voting for Yao Ming as the starting center of the Western Conference All-Star squad.
I’m sure you’re thinking, “Jeff, what the hell is wrong with you?” or “You are a moron” or, for fans of the movie Airplane, “Did I leave the iron on?” Well, before you wish me waterboarded into oblivion, try to understand why I feel this way.
With all due respect to the big fella, there is no way a guy who is playing 18 minutes per game (with a team-imposed cap at 24), skipping back-to-backs and averaging 10 points and 5 rebounds should be a starter on the All-Star team. In a city like Houston, always so desperate for recognition and respect, it probably sounds bizarre to complain about our guys getting noticed, but respect is exactly why we need to vote for someone else.
What concerns me is the fact that he has a real shot at earning a starting nod. Since Yao entered the league and since the NBA allowed voting on the internet, it is no secret that the people of China have made their 2 billion voices heard. Fortunately, their choices have been as reasonable as the average American NBA fan, which is to say not always on the mark, but not exactly off the reservation either.
Then again, when an injured and barely playing Tracy McGrady was on the ballot last year, he managed to reel in over a million votes and rank fourth among guards in the final tally. There’s no proof that Chinese voters helped bolster his voting totals, but I think anyone would be hard pressed to suggest otherwise.
Yao is a cultural icon in his native country and his making the ballot, while not ensuring a starting spot, certainly makes being voted as a starter more likely at the moment than making the team as a reserve voted by the coaches, which, by the way, is where his fate should lie.
This is about earning the respect on the floor, not being handed it because of some former glories or because your home country represents a third of the world’s population. This is the season Yao needs to prove he is deserving and make the team without the benefit of anything but his play on the floor and the respect of the coaches around the league.
He’s been through a nearly career-ending surgery and has suffered through multiple injury-plagued seasons. There are those who think he’ll never reach his former greatness and others still who question whether he was ever great in the first place. It’s time for Yao to prove he isn’t some 7-foot-6 fluke. Want to make believers out of them? Let Yao crawl out of that hole on his own.
No matter how you feel about Yao or the Rockets, it is far better to be left off the squad when you deserve to start than to be voted into the starting line-up when you don’t deserve to be on the team. It’s bad for the sport, the Rockets and for Yao. But, if Yao manages to come back from this injury, go on a tear and force the Rockets to lighten up on his playing restrictions, he would have the opportunity to truly earn a spot on the All-Star roster and, in doing so, force everyone to take notice.
THAT is how you earn respect. THAT is how you solidify your place amongst the legitimate greats of the game. Yao doesn’t need the internet. He doesn’t need China. He doesn’t need us to vote him onto the All-Star team. If we all truly want him to have the respect we feel he and the Rockets deserve, let him earn it. We’ll all be better for it.