- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 18, 2021

Over the course of Bradley Beal’s rise to prominence, mainstream fans started to become well aware of the Washington Wizards star. They learned he was a lethal scorer, one currently topping the NBA. They recognized his name from trade rumors that topped headlines. And casual observers have even picked up on the heavy amount of memes based on Beal’s reactions.

But perhaps most of all, Beal was seen as underrated: A player left off awards ballots and snubbed from other honors.

The latter, though, seems to be changing. Beal was named Thursday as a starting guard for the Eastern Conference when the NBA announced the starters for next month’s All-Star Game in Atlanta.

The announcement marks the first time in Beal’s nine-year career in which he was voted in as a starter, and it will be his third All-Star Game appearance overall.

Beal joined Brooklyn’s Kyrie Irving, Brooklyn’s Kevin Durant, Milwaukee’s Giannis Antetokounmpo and Philadelphia’s Joel Embiid to fill out the East’s starting lineup. The game’s reserves are set to be revealed next week. The event will take place March 7 at State Farm Arena.

For the West, Golden State’s Stephen Curry, Dallas’ Luka Doncic, the Clippers’ Kawhi Leonard, the Lakers’ LeBron James and Denver’s Nikola Jokic were named as starters.

Last year, Beal failed to make the All-Star Game despite being second in scoring, ignored because of Washington’s poor record. The result — seen widely as a snub — left the 27-year-old disappointed and angry. Beal famously called the decision “disrespectful” in an interview.

But this season, there was little doubt Beal would get in. Beal’s 32.8 points per game leads the league — and Beal led fan voting among Eastern Conference guards. Fan votes accounted for 50% of the decision, with the media and player splitting the rest. Beal earned the most vote among the conference’s guards in all three categories. 

Beal said Wednesday the changing perception around him has a “little to do with everything,” though acknowledged past snubs most likely played a factor in increasing his profile. 

A day later, when the news was finally officially, Beal said he was “completely thrown off” by the jump in vote totals this year, but said it was a reflection of his hard work. He called the honor a blessing. 

“Part of me wants to say it’s all the trade rumors,” Beal said with a smile. “Me getting snubbed last year until now, my name has just always been kind of buzzing around. “Granted I’ve been having a fortunate first half of the year and I guess people are just recognizing it more. It’s not like we’re on TV more. It’s not like anything has changed for me from last year to this year. “

To be clear, Beal’s ascension among the game’s elite can be traced back to his improvement on the court. This season marks the third straight year in which the 27-year-old has averaged a new career high. Beal can score in a variety of ways, emerging as the team’s go-to option on most nights.

Beal’s rise to this level started when former teammate John Wall suffered a knee injury in 2017-18, leaving Beal to handle the bulk of the team’s workload.

As Beal referenced, there’s another factor beyond the improvement and snubs that have contributed to the guard’s notoriety.  Because of the Wizards’ record — they’re 9-17 — Beal has been heavily linked to trade rumors, despite Washington’s insistence the guard is not available. Beal, too, has said he wants to stay in Washington, but that hasn’t changed the perception that Beal would be the crown jewel for any contending team looking to make a serious run. 

Beal, though, said he was honored to represent Washington in the All-Star Game. He is the team’s first starter since 2015, when Wall was voted in. Beal said he realizes he was “entrusted with the franchise” and has to show up on a nightly basis. 

Then, there’s also the support Beal receives from teammates, coaches, friends and family — all of whom have long argued he’s been long overlooked. That echo chamber amplifies any perceived slights or failure to be recognized, buzz that’s helped arguably put Beal on the radar.

When Beal was left off the end of last year’s All-NBA team, his wife, Kamiah Adams-Beal, angrily wrote on Twitter for people to “put some respect on his name!” 

Celtics star Jayson Tatum, Beal’s close and childhood friend, said Beal would be better known if he played in a bigger market.

Occasionally, Beal has shown frustration related to his status. Initially, he said he wouldn’t get his hopes up for this year’s All-Star Game because of last year’s result. On Thursday, he said last year’s snub motivated him, but also was a humbling experience. “It brought me back down to Earth,” Beal said. “I thought I was hot [expletive] in a way.”

Beal, however, has seemed to embrace the perception of being overlooked. A day earlier, he said accolades and perception were not reasons he sought to play the game. Beal said he just wants to be a dominant player who leaves a “lasting impact” on people. 

After being named as a starter, he acknowledged the obvious: His status is changing.  

“It’s kind of a popularity league,” Beal said, “so I guess I’m becoming a little popular.” 

• Matthew Paras can be reached at mparas@washingtontimes.com.

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