HANG TIME SOUTHWEST — In 2009, Dwight Howard — not Kobe Bryant, not LeBron James, not Dwyane Wade — became the first player in All-Star fan balloting history to crack 3 million votes.
The affable, smiling and downright dominant Howard — Superman! — was the most popular player in the NBA.
Six years, multiple changes of mind and two teams later, an image-tattered Howard received 653,318 votes. He will surely make his eighth consecutive All-Star team (assuming the Western Conference coaches rightly select him as one of seven reserves). He will not, however, start the game for the first time since his All-Star debut in 2007 when Shaquille O’Neal still ruled the roost in the East with the Miami Heat. These days, O’Neal leads his TNT cohorts in dog-piling the Houston Rockets big man.
Howard’s 2014 vote-total ranked 12th among all players in both conferences. He is no longer the most popular player in the NBA. I’m not even sure if anybody even calls him Superman anymore.
Allow the following to serve as a cautionary tale to the next waffling superstar who toys with a fan base’s mind (hello, Carmelo Anthony):
Here are Howard’s All-Star vote totals and where he finished overall from 2009-14:
- Orlando, 2009: 3,150,181 (top overall vote-getter)
- Orlando, 2010: 2,360,096 (third)
- Orlando, 2011: 2,099,204 (second)
- Orlando, 2012: 1,600,390 (first)
- L.A. Lakers, 2013: 922,070 (eighth)
- Houston, 2014: 653,318 (12th)
Before the remaining Howard-backers break out the sledgehammers and point out a thing or two, there are extenuating circumstances beyond Howard’s control that have contributed to — but cannot be wholly responsible for — his vote totals falling off a cliff.
The most obvious is the league’s obliteration of the “center” position on the All-Star ballot. This is the second consecutive year that centers and forwards are lumped into one “frontcourt” category. Under the old format, Howard would be the starting center by a wide margin. He was a starter last season under the current non-center format, but also Minnesota’s Kevin Love, who overtook Howard during the final fan balloting and will start for the first time, played in only 18 games prior to last year’s All-Star Game due to a broken hand.
Also notable is the West is loaded with on-the-rise, All-Star worthy frontcourt players, and the vote reflects that. Five players this year received more than 600,000 votes compared to three a year ago. There’s also the fact that fan voting overall, for whatever reasons, has dipped the last two years, so naturally, Howard, along with Kobe and LeBron and everybody else, received fewer votes.
Still, Howard’s fall is stunning. His diminishing percentage of total votes the last two years tells the story of how his waffling in Orlando and the perception of him in L.A. last season with the Lakers has emptied his once overflowing bandwagon.
Howard’s 653,318 votes this year account for 10.2 percent of the the total Western Conference “frontcourt” votes (the top 15 vote-getters the NBA releases). Last year his votes accounted for 15.6 percent of the total West “frontcourt votes. In 2009, when he was the overall leading vote-getter, he accounted for 19.6 percent of the Eastern Conference “frontcourt” vote (under the old format I used the top five vote-getters at “center” and the top 10 at “forward”).
Howard’s peak, percentage-wise, was 2012, his emotional, indecisive final year with the Magic. He was coming off a third consecutive Defensive Player of the Year award and the All-Star Game was played in his home arena in Orlando. His 1.6 million votes accounted for 24.1 percent of the East “frontcourt” vote (again, the top five at “center” and the top 10 at “forward”).
Surely it’s safe to assume that Howard’s 2014 vote totals, the lowest of his career by far, received no help from NBA fans in Orlando and Los Angeles. He’ll probably never get them back.
He still has time to win back the fans he’s obviously lost in other precincts. Only time will tell if he does.