LeBron James became the first player to ever be named to 20 All-Star teams Thursday night, when he was selected for the Western Conference as part of the league’s unveiling of the 10 starters for next month’s All-Star Game in Indianapolis.
James, who surpassed Kareem Abdul-Jabbar for the most All-Star nods in NBA history, was joined in the West starting five by Denver Nuggets center Nikola Jokic, Phoenix Suns forward Kevin Durant, Dallas Mavericks guard Luka Doncic and Oklahoma City Thunder guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander.
In the Eastern Conference, Milwaukee Bucks star Giannis Antetokounmpo led the voting and was joined by Philadelphia 76ers center Joel Embiid, Boston Celtics forward Jayson Tatum, Indiana Pacers guard Tyrese Haliburton and Bucks guard Damian Lillard.
It is the second All-Star selection, and first start, for both Haliburton, who is representing the host Pacers, and Gilgeous-Alexander.
James, who is in his 21st NBA season, continues to defy Father Time, averaging 24.8 points, 7.2 rebounds and 7.4 assists for the Los Angeles Lakers, and breaks Abdul-Jabbar’s mark a little less than a year after surpassing his once seemingly unbreakable career scoring record.
Meanwhile, it will be the 14th All-Star appearance for Durant; eighth for both Antetokounmpo and Lillard; seventh for Embiid; sixth for Jokic; and fifth for both Doncic and Tatum.
There was little drama in the voting in either conference. The totals among the fans virtually didn’t change from week to week, with Antetokounmpo, Embiid and Tatum far ahead of the field of Eastern Conference frontcourt players; Haliburton lapping the field among East guards; and James, Jokic and Durant far ahead of the pack in the West frontcourt.
The only places where there was some drama were the second guard spot in the East, where Trae Young and Lillard went back-and-forth among the fan voting over the past few weeks; and among the three guard spots in the West, where Doncic, Gilgeous-Alexander and Stephen Curry were closely bunched through each of the three rounds of voting.
Ultimately, though, it was Doncic and Gilgeous-Alexander finished first and second among media and player voting, respectively, to edge Curry out. Lillard, meanwhile, finished well ahead of Jalen Brunson in fan voting to earn the starting spot next to Haliburton in the East.
While there wasn’t much drama about the starters, who will be coaching both teams will likely go down to Feb. 4, with the standings that day determining who will be on the sidelines. Last year’s selections — the Celtics’ Joe Mazzulla and the Nuggets’ Michael Malone — are ineligible, because coaches cannot be picked two years in a row. Three teams are within one game in the loss column of each other in the West — the Minnesota Timberwolves, Thunder and LA Clippers — while the Bucks and 76ers are tied in the loss column in the East.
The Bucks, in particular, would be an unusual circumstance, with Doc Rivers taking over this week for the fired Adrian Griffin. It’s the same scenario that played out in 2016, when current Clippers coach Tyronn Lue handled the All-Star Game after replacing David Blatt midseason.
Last season, the voted-in starters were Antetokounmpo, Tatum, Durant, Donovan Mitchell and Kyrie Irving in the Eastern Conference, and James, Jokic, Doncic, Curry and Zion Williamson in the West, though both Durant and Williamson wound up missing the game because of injuries.
This year’s game, to be played Feb. 18, will see the NBA return to its traditional East versus West format, having announced earlier this season that it’s scrapping the captains structure that saw the top vote-getter in each conference pick their respective teams.
The reserve selections from each conference, which will be voted on by the NBA’s head coaches, will be announced on TNT on Feb. 1.