Wilt Chamberlain vs. Bill Russell. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar vs. Robert Parish. Hakeem Olajuwon vs. Robert Parish.
There once was a time when the NBA was ruled by classic big men match-ups. But it’s a new day. Both starting lineups for the next month’s All-Star Game will be without a traditional center for the first time ever. Fans, who voted for the starters, went for high-scoring “small ball,” choosing three forwards in the frontcourt instead.
Two-time reigning MVP LeBron James of the Miami Heat was the leading voter-getter (1,416,419) and will be joined across the Eastern Conference frontline by Paul George of the Indiana Pacers and Carmelo Anthony of the New York Knicks.
Kevin Durant of the Oklahoma City Thunder (1,396,294) was the top vote-getter in the Western Conference. His frontcourt partners will be Blake Griffin of the Los Angeles Clippers and Kevin Love of the Minnesota Timberwolves. (For vote totals, see the NBA’s official release.)
Roy Hibbert of the Pacers and Dwight Howard of the Houston Rockets, the top centers in their respective conferences, will have to rely on the vote of the league’s head coaches to be added to the teams.
Starting for the East in the backcourt will be Dwyane Wade of the Heat and Kyrie Irving of the Cleveland Cavaliers. Voted to start in the West backcourt were Kobe Bryant of the Los Angeles Lakers and Stephen Curry of the Warriors. It is unknown if Bryant, who is recovering from a knee, will be able to play.
The reserves, seven for each team, will be selected by a poll of the league’s coaches and announced Jan. 30 on TNT.
The 63rd NBA All-Star Game will be exclusively televised on TNT from New Orleans Arena on Sunday, Feb. 16. The All-Star Game, also broadcast live on ESPN Radio, will reach fans in 215 countries and territories in more than 40 languages.
LeBron James, Heat — Did we really even need to hold a vote to put him here? It wouldn’t be a legitimate All-Star Game without the league’s best player. He’s back in New Orleans, where he came off the bench for 27 points, nine assists and eight rebounds to earn his second All-Star Game MVP award in 2008. | Highlights
Paul George, Pacers — The Pacers have been a well-oiled machine in running up the NBA’s best overall record, and the 23-year-old George is clearly the key cog. It’s his second All-Star Game appearance, but first start as he charges into MVP conversation. | Highlights
Carmelo Anthony, Knicks — A pure scorer, it’s a bit surprising that he’s never been the All-Star Game MVP. It might be a nice salve in a disappointing season during which even he has called his underachieving Knicks “a laughingstock.” It’s his seventh All-Star Game and third time as a starter in the Eastern Conference. | Highlights
Dwyane Wade, Heat — Bad knees may have already kept him out of a dozen games. Right now you’d have to say his health is the weakest link in the Heat’s chance to three-peat. But the 2010 All-Star MVP is still a fan favorite and back in the East lineup for the 10th time in his career. | Highlights
Kyrie Irving, Cavaliers — It’s been a disappointing season for his team, unable to live up to playoff expectations, and there has been friction in the lineup. But the 2012 Rookie of the Year makes his second All-Star Game appearance and first as a starter. | Highlights
The lowdown: When you’re putting together a team to have the best chance at taking down the two-time defending champion Heat in the playoffs, putting Pacers center Hibbert in the middle would be a good place to start with his size, physicality and impressive low-post game to go at what is probably Miami’s most exploitable area. But All-Star teams are usually about flash and points and style and points and more points. So Hibbert gets pushed aside. The little guy with just as big a gripe is John Wall of the Wizards. Wall is arguably the best point guard in the conference this season and has his team solidly in the playoff race, well ahead of Irving’s Cavaliers.
Kevin Durant, Thunder — Another no-brainer, no-doubt selection. His streak of scoring at least 30 points is now up to nine games in a row and the best part is how he makes it look so easy. It’s the fifth consecutive All-Star Game for the 2012 MVP in Orlando. | Highlights
Blake Griffin, Clippers — It seems everybody has criticisms of how he plays, how he acts, how he fits in with Chris Paul in the Clippers’ offense. Everybody, that is, except the voters who just want to see him take lobs and rattle those All-Star backboards. | Highlights
Kevin Love, Timberwolves — The league’s fourth-leading scorer and second-leading rebounder is healthy and back to being a double-double machine. After a one-year absence, he’s back for his third All-Star Game and first time as a starter. | Highlights
Kobe Bryant, Lakers — Never mind that Achilles’ tendon and knee injuries have limited him to just 10 games and he actually asked fans not to vote for him. It’s not an All-Star Game without the Black Mamba. This is his 16th. He’s been the MVP four times. | Highlights
Stephen Curry, Warriors — We can finally scratch the line off his resume that says “best player never to make the All-Star team.” No longer hiding in the weeds and overlooked. This has been his best all-around season as he’s distributed the ball as well — and often as dazzling — as he’s scored it. | Highlights
The lowdown: In a fantasy world where nobody ever gets hurt, L.A. and Staples Center neighbors Bryant and Paul would both be healthy and ready to make up the Western Conference starting backcourt for a fourth consecutive season. But the shoulder injury that’s kept Paul on the sidelines opened the door for Curry to finally get his proper recognition in a very crowded race among backcourt candidates. CP3 says he hopes to be back in time to play in the All-Star Game and maybe even defend the MVP award he won a year ago in Houston. Now it’s Portland’s Damian Lillard who must count on the coaches to do the right thing and give him a spot. If the trend to overlook classic centers in the fan voting has now become an unofficial All-Star trend and cost Howard a starting berth, so too has been the public push that once more found Houston’s James Harden, the best shooting guard in the NBA, far behind teammate Jeremy Lin.