James Harden’s ascension up the ranks of NBA buzzdom seems less shocking than preordained after the Beard was sent down south a couple of days before the season began. After spending a couple of years being regarded as the Thunder’s “secret weapon” or “trump card” or a host of other euphemisms for “really amazing player that gets far too few minutes/shots”, Harden’s place on the NBA’s leading scorer board and general prominence among the league this year probably makes as much sense as any other possible outcome to his trade to the Rockets. The most logical culmination, if that word can accurately be applied to describe an event that occurs in the middle of a player’s first season on a new team, to the trade now would be Harden’s ultimate coronation at this February’s All-Star Game, somehow once again hosted in the H. Yes, he’ll likely come off of the bench, but Harden’s spot is almost guaranteed on the roster, on which he’ll likely only back up luminaries like Kobe Bryant and… Jeremy Lin?
A point guard shooting under 40% from the field, one whose assist rate falls behind combo guards like Greivis Vasquez and limps into Monday with an anemic PER of 13.24, should not be an All-Star, much less a starter on the team. No, nothing about Jeremy Lin’s widely expected starring turn in February will be very fair from a basketball perspective, as he’ll likely go down as the worst player in recent history to start one of these exhibitions. This incongruity, this chasm between popularity and on-court output, will likely cause a bit of an uproar in basketball circles, making many columnists and comment-section trolls question the wisdom of allowing anyone (ANYONE) from around the world the opportunity to choose the ten most prominent faces for your league to offer up. Still, in this upcoming brouhaha’s most incisive moments, we will have to accept that this will become a tangible, verifiable moment when Lin’s cultural heritage unquestionably benefitted him in a way that it wouldn’t any other player of a similar talent level. For once, being Asian would not just be a convenient excuse for why doubters wouldn’t take Lin seriously; it would be a plausible reason for why they take this All-Star lost even less seriously. Houston would, and almost certainly will, become a hot potato, an issue to be bandied about as we all decide what exactly we think this consequence-less game in the middle of a warm winter means, why it even exists. In all of it, we’ll forget one important fact: none of this matters.
Who among us, among this group of NBA diehards that knows the names of each team’s D-League affiliate and still wonders when Kenyon Martin is going to get a damn job, actually cares about the NBA All-Star Game? Oh, we watch it. Watch all of the dumb festivities, reminisce on days when guys like Allen Iverson and Stephon Marbury could come out of it genuinely looking like heroes. But we don’t really care. And we shouldn’t because this game is not for us. It is for the casual fan, the one who actually still buys NBA jerseys and signature shoes and legitimately cares about who this year’s scoring champ is. For years, these starting line-ups were stuffed with guys like Vince Carter and Iverson, men who were never in the real conversation for the league’s best players but offered something beautiful or something relatable or something worth loving; why, because a player might get voted in for his own weakly superficial reasons, like that he happens to share an ethnicity with a country that houses the world’s largest population and most active Internet community, would we suddenly demonize this ever-present aspect of the All-Star Game?
This is a bit of a preemptive strike, fired before even the first returns form the All-Star balloting are released to the public, but it’s a necessary one. Kelly Dwyer briefly touched on this last week, seemingly aware of the forthcoming fiasco that Lin’s placement on the team will garner; I simply thought I should remind everyone to prepare, like a call from the National Weather Service. Racial epithets will be spewed. Calls for him to relinquish his spot to Chris Paul will pour down. James Harden will probably silently wonder how in the hell he made the All-Star Team as a Rocket and still ended up on the bench behind a teammate. Regardless, board up your windows, Houston.