Chris Paul, the All Star Game and David Stern's master plan

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Chris Paul in traffic

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Photo by Jonathan Bachman

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It seems like yesterday that everyone was decrying the NBA All-Star voting process and saying that fans are a bunch of bumbling idiots that can't tell a basketball from their ass shouldn't determine All-Star starters because Chris Paul trailed Tracy McGrady in the voting by 157,00 tallies. Hornets fans were understandably upset (some more than others) and there was a legitimate sense that a great injustice would take place.

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Well, crisis averted everyone. Chris Paul has been (rightfully) named a starter for the 2009 NBA All Star game. But did the fans actually vote Paul in or is there a conspiracy afoot?

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Let's just take a look at the numbers and see whether or not commissioner David Stern is up to his old tricks.

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  • Poll numbers released 11 days ago: Tracy McGrady — 1,216,224. Chris Paul — 1,059,161 votes. McGrady led by 157,063 votes.
  • Final tally released yesterday: Chris Paul - 2,134,798 votes. Tracy McGrady — 1,678,516. Paul beat McGrady by 450,000 votes.

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Chris Paul earned 1,075,637 votes —  about 100,000 votes a day — while McGrady earned just 462,292 votes — about 46,000 votes a day — over the same 10-day span. During that time, Paul also received more votes than Dwight Howard (1,047,813), Lebron James (1,000,661), Kobe Bryant (901,599), Dwyane Wade (922,696), and Yao Ming (777,459); all but one player that had the highest vote totals for their position in their conference. The only player Paul didn't outpace in the balloting this past week and three days? Tim Duncan: the NBA's superstar Mr. Nice Guy. (How convenient.)

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There are a few possible explanations for this. For one, Hornets fans could have mobilized to vote for Paul in an unprecedented way the past 10 days once they realized he needed their help. On the other hand, it's entirely possible that die-hard NBA fans across the country were trying to redeem themselves after players, coaches and media pretty much said they don't know enough about basketball to merit a say in the All Star rosters. But those explanations are rational, speak to the heart of the changing image of the NBA and can be backed up with hard evidence — but where's the fun in that?

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Let's look at this another way: David Stern is a mad genius. It wouldn't be the first time the NBA commish was embroiled in conspiracy theories: The ever-grinning Stern always seems to be in the middle of some sort of conspiracy theory involving superstar players, playoff matchups or anything that will net his league more cash. There's also the specter of the Tim Donaghy mess which rears it's ugly head every time there's questionable officiating (something that apparently happens all the freaking time). Stern always comes off as some sort of caricature of a criminal mastermind — and he may well be. Would it really surprise you if it turned out that most, if not all, the crazy theories about him are actually true? And yet Stern's image and reputation always comes out relatively unscathed.

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Hornets fans — and you'd hope basketball fans in general — probably don't have much to gripe about this time. It wouldn't be too surprising if people overlook the fact that Paul received more votes in the last 10 days than he had all season because he truly deserves to be there. And therein lies Stern's evil genius: even when he rigs the system nobody complains because the NBA, and in someways the sport of basketball, usually stand to benefit. Stern is no dummy; for every "Knicks draft Ewing" there's a "Chris Paul named All-Star starter". Ultimately, it's all about putting out the best possible product. Right now that product just so happens to play point guard in New Orleans.

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