Nigerian-Greek forward/guard Giannis Antetokounmpo will make his first All-Star Game appearance in New Orleans this February and will be one of two international players in the starting line-up alongside point guard Kyrie Irving from the defending champions Cleveland Cavaliers who hails from Australia.
Antetokounmpo was a fan-favourite early in the All-Star race and at the final count in the East was second only to 13-time All-Star LeBron James from the Cavaliers in all voting categories. He becomes the first Milwaukee player selected to the All-Star Game since Michael Redd during the 2003/04 season.
He also joins an elite group of NBA players with African roots to be selected to the All-Star Game: 12-time All-Star Hakeem Olajuwon from Nigeria, eight-time All-Star Dikembe Mutombo from the Democratic Republic of Congo and South Sudanese forward Luol Deng who played in the 2012 and 2013 All-Star Games.
According to this year’s voting tally, James was the leading vote-getter among fans with 1,893,751 votes, while Stephen Curry from the Golden State Warriors had 1,848,121, Kevin Durant also from the Warriors had 1,768,185 and Irving received 1,696,769. They also had the highest fan totals in their respective position groups.
Fans accounted for 50 percent of the votes for the starters, while current players and a media panel accounted for 25 percent each. Fans cast more than 38 million votes this year, a 146% increase from last year.
Other Eastern Conference starters include Jimmy Butler (Chicago Bulls), who will make his third straight All-Star appearance and DeMar DeRozan (Toronto Raptors) also due to make his third appearance and is Toronto’s all-time leading scorer.
The rest of the Western Conference starters are Anthony Davis (New Orleans Pelicans) who will make his fourth appearance in a row, matching Chris Paul for the most selections in New Orleans franchise history, James Harden (Houston Rockets) will make his fifth appearance, all of which have come since he joined the franchise five seasons ago and San Antonio Spurs’ Kawhi Leonard, two-time reigning Defensive Player of the Year is a starter for the second year in a row.
Two notable names that missed the starters cut are back-to-back All-Star Game MVP Russell Westbrook and Cameroonian rookie sensation Joel Embiid.
The 66th NBA All-Star Game will take place on Sunday, 19 February at Smoothie King Center in New Orleans.
By Kaunda Chama