Anyone can earn a trip to the All-Star Game via on-court play. Every year, a handful of schlemiels are gonna put up 20 and 10, or shoot a 50/40/90, or be the unquestioned leader of a 40-15 team. Yeah, whatever. Last time I checked, this wasn’t called the All-Pretty-Good-Basketball-Player Game. This is the All-Star Game. And being a Star consists of a whole lot more than merely putting up stats and contributing to team wins. To be a star, you need to have your face and name out there, to be witnessed daily by millions who might not watch your team play a game all year, to build a brand unto yourself. You need to shill for product.
So who earned themselves a ticket to California this year based on their ability to smile for the cameras? Well, unsurprisingly, most of the players who got in the boring, old-fashioned way — big business doesn’t exactly tend to empty the bench when picking its spokespeople. But there are some lineup discrepancies, including a couple players who arguably got snubbed the first time around.
Take a look at how the game now breaks down …
Point Guard: Derrick Rose, NBA 2K11 (“MJ’s Greatest Moments”)
The arguable current Greatest Point Guard in the Game has seen nearly all aspects of his game grow in leaps and bounds this season, and his commercial work is no exception. A guarded and occasionally disquieting presence his first few seasons in the league, D-Rose has opened his heart to the nature of celebrity this season, making several fine ad turns, the best of which is his deadpan work as part of the crew of young’ns (practically an entire All-Star squad in themselves) debating the ultimate moment of MJ’s career. Tellingly, in a hotel room full of great peers at the point (Rajon Rondo, Russell Westbrook, even Andre Iguodala if you count his recent stint at point-forward), it’s Rose who’s the one doing work in the kitchen, meting out the onion rings. (“Keep talkin’, y’all ain’t gon’ get none.”) A team leader if ever there was one.
Shooting Guard: Landry Fields, Modell’s (“Undercover Employee”)
As he has all throughout the season, the Knicks’ Landry Fields finds his way to consideration here with hard work and hustle. Rather then spend ten minutes doing poses in front of a Modell’s green screen and then calling it a day, Fields recognizes that his name is (in this case, somewhat literally) not going to sell itself, and spends an entire day as a slightly-undercover Mo’s employee hawking his jersey to unsuspecting customers. In the meantime, he abuses his loudspeaker privileges, terrorizes some small children, and does a surprisingly good Amar’e imitation. Did Modell’s specifically commission this commercial? Are they even aware of its existence? Hey, a second-round pick doesn’t ask for handouts–he just goes out and gets the job done.
Small Forward: LeBron James, Nike (“Rise”)
Feels like years since this one came out, doesn’t it? You remember it, of course, since it’s the closest thing to a legitimate headline-grabber that the sports-advertising world has seen in recent years. It’s still a fantastic thing, doing the near-impossible in making LeBron seem thoughtful, controlled and self-aware after spending an entire summer seemingly trying to prove what little capacity he had for those qualities. Even if four months later, none of us (including LBJ himself) seem to have found an entirely satisfying answer to the question at hand, it’s still an inextricable part of whatever the story of LeBron’s Year One in Miami ends up being, and more than enough to get him the starting position in the East.
Power Forward: Amar’e Stoudemire, Foot Locker (“Dunkography”)
The biggest leap forward in terms of star power in this NBA season was undoubtedly taken by STAT, who went from a second banana on a team in the desert to the guy who saved basketball in the country’s biggest media market in one well-played off-season. Considering, Amare’s TV repping has grown appropriately, and his performance as one of the professors (“Mr. Stoudemire”) in the recent Foot Locker series of famous athletes teaching students valuable lessons about hard work and quality footwear reflects the intelligence and confidence of a man who just signed a $100 million dollar deal to be serenaded with thunderous “M! V! P!” chants every time he gets an and-one for the next decade. Class dismissed, indeed.
Center: Dwight Howard, Adidas (“Fast Don’t Lie”)
Many NBA stars bring many diverse talents to the table when it comes to their advertising work, but chances are, only The Beast From the Far East is going to encourage spontaneous sing-alongs among viewers. Dwight may or may not be able to actually play the piano, but he can certainly improvise song lyrics mixing hoops braggadocio and commercial plot contrivances (“Getting quick to the rim game after game / Taking planes to Aruba with Slim, it’s never lame”) with the best of them — and sound damn good doing it, too. There’s even enough legitimate chemistry between D-12 and Ken “The Hangover wasn’t even that funny and that was like ten movies ago” Jeong to make the latter tolerable for possibly the last-ever time. Resurrecting Gilbert Arenas’s career in the second half of this season would likely be a lesser accomplishment.
Rajon Rondo – Foot Locker (“The Educators”)
Brandon Jennings – NBA on ESPN (“Deer in the Road”)
Josh Smith – Dick’s Sporting Goods (“J-Smoove”)
Dwyane Wade – T-Mobile (“Get Me Outta Here!”)
Danilo Gallinari and Carlos Boozer – NBA on ESPN (“I’m Not Eating Without Hot Sauce”)
Point Guard: Steve Nash, NBA (“Encouragement”)
OK, not technically a performance from this year, but still–it’d feel wrong not to have at least one player from the highly-polarizing (and higherly-unavoidable) NBA “Encouragement” series as a starter. My personal favorite is probably the Amar’e one, but that’s more due to the banter between the goony New York observers (“You kidding me? I gotta explain ‘J-Train’ to you?”) than due to Amar’e himself. So let’s choose one where the star’s more personally involved–STAT’s old pick-and-roll partner Steve Nash, looking more lovably scampish than ever as a punky 18-year-old practicing one-handed layups and smacking the ball out of his visitor-from-the-future’s hands. Worth pointing out how much more Nash looked like TBJ co-pater familias J.E. Skeets as a wiry, crew-cut teenager? Probably not.
Shooting Guard: Kobe Bryant, Nike (“The Black Mamba”)
Just like the regular voting, may as well just pencil him in every year until he retires. I do wish Kobe had done a little more acting here–I feel he has a good thespian turn or two in him, and there’s no better dramatic handicapper than a cheesy Robert Rodriguez clip. But then again, when you’re splitting screen time with Bruce Willis, Kanye West and Danny Trejo, maybe it’s best to just kind of hang back and let your play (and your trademark icy, unimpressed glare) do the talking. Might be a slight lifetime achievement effect going on here, but I still can’t picture any two-guard in the West supplanting the Mamba anytime soon.
Small Forward: Carmelo Anthony, Nike/Air Jordan (“Do Whatever It Takes”)
And if there was a mid-season commercial MVP, no doubt that Carmelo would get it for his work here. Playing coach, photographer, announcer, fan, star and opposing star all with equal aplomb, it’s an excellent reminder that Melo, -Drama aside, is still one of the most compelling personalities in the game, and an absolute joy to watch do his thing, whatever that thing may be at any given point in time. And luckily, with just a couple of days remaining until All-Star Weekend, it seems likely that we’ll avoid a trade East for Carmelo–which would be awkward not only for Anthony in having to switch teams, but whatever poor sap would be stuck photo-adjusting this spot to be ten Melo’s playing in Knicks/Nets unis at MSG/The Prudential Center.
Power Forward: Lamar Odom, Khloe & Lamar (“Unbreakable”)
Was there any doubt? In fact, I’m pretty sure it’s in the TV-Star All-Star Game by-laws that if you appear in a spot with your reality TV star wife, naked and spewing lines like “That beautiful mix of masculine and feminine / There is a beauty in believing one cannot exist without the other,” you get automatic entry as a starter. “Unbreakable” officially marks the final step in the metamorphosis from Lamar Odom, candy-fixated reserve forward for the two-time NBA Champion Lakers, to Lamar, celebrity for unfortunate reasons. And if you think it’s hilarious now, just imagine how absolutely sublime it’s going to seem when the two are a half-year into their very public divorce hearings.
Center: Kevin Love, Numb#rs (“All-Star Collection”)
Gotta go the two-big approach here, due to the lack of serviceable Western centers either on or off the court. And just as he was hand-picked by David Stern to cover up for Yao Ming’s absence in the real game, so Kevin Love gets to fill the void at starting center for my team, for his bizarre appearance in the ad for his semi-fictional cologne. I’m not even really sure what the joke is here–something about K-Love’s predilection for stat-stuffing, though what that has to do with creepy mascots wearing scarves and funny hats is slightly beyond me–but in any event, there is clearly some Next-Level Shit at play here in some capacity. I’d vote for you, Kevin, though I’m not sure how much I wanna smell like you just yet.
Russell Westbrook – BancFirst (“Coach Westbrook”)
Stephen Curry – NBA (“Encouragement”)
Kevin Durant – ESPN Fantasy (“Jake Stephens, Fantasy Owner”)
Rudy Gay – 2011 All-Star Voting (“The Most Interesting Man in the NBA”)
Caron Butler – Tuff Juice (“Toughness In a Can”)
Personally, I like the East’s chances. A little deeper, and much stronger up front. And not to beleaguer a point already made elsewhere, but — can we mention how utterly ridiculous it is that Blake Griffin doesn’t have a single commercial to his name yet? If he’s not a starter next year, we might have to fold the game entirely.