- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 31, 2006

The final fan votes are in, and the imperfection of the process became clear: The leading vote-getter for next month’s NBA All-Star Game missed more than a month with an injury.

Houston center Yao Ming, who had toe surgery Dec. 19, missed 21 games before returning last night. But that didn’t prevent a huge block of voters — most believed to be from China — from endorsing him. When fan voting ended Jan. 22, the 7-foot-6 center led all players with 1,990,303 votes, guaranteeing he will start for the Western Conference in the 55th edition of the game Feb. 19.

Yao will make the team for the third time, even though his numbers (19.9 points, 9.0 rebounds) are substantially less than what his supporters promised when the giant was drafted and even though his team has perpetually trolled the bottom of the Western Conference.

Meanwhile, the Washington Wizards’ Gilbert Arenas and Antawn Jamison must hope they have impressed Eastern Conference coaches enough to be voted onto the team Feb. 9.

“I won’t be picked by the fans because I’m not getting exposed like those guys,” Arenas said of the players ahead of him, many of whom are in commercials and play often on national television. “So I need to actually do work. Every year I’m going to have to come in and do my work. I’m not ever going to be one of those players who get voted onto the All-Star team after missing most of the season.”

Despite having another monstrous season — one that could end with him posting the second-highest scoring average in franchise history — Arenas firmly believes fans are basically coerced into voting for certain players through the power of television.

“If you really look at it, it’s like the fans are brainwashed to vote for certain guys,” he said. “They see a guy enough on TV so that when they look at the ballot they just vote for the guy.”

At last count, Arenas was eighth on the list in the guard-heavy Eastern Conference with 326,325 votes. He is fourth in the league in scoring (28.1), and he joins Philadelphia’s Allen Iverson, Miami’s Dwyane Wade and Cleveland’s LeBron James as the only four players in the league ranked in the top 20 in scoring and assists.

Perhaps no player reveled more in his selection to the team last year than Jamison. Though he isn’t even listed among the top vote-receiving forwards this season, Jamison believes he still has a chance if the Wizards (20-22), who have won seven of their last 10 games, can get their record to .500 by the time the coaches vote.

Despite being almost a foot shorter than Yao, Jamison’s numbers (19.0 points, 9.8 rebounds) are almost identical.

“I want to make it,” Jamison said. “Don’t get me wrong; my loyalties are with this team and doing everything I can do to make this team better. But I’d be lying to you if I said I didn’t want to make it. I’m staying positive about the whole situation. My job is to get as many wins as possible, and hopefully that will help out in the process.”

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