By definition, NBA All-Stars are the best of the best. In theory.
But sometimes they aren’t all that amazing — relative to their competition. Some were voted in by fans who may or may not have actually watched any games that season or by coaches who could not care less about who makes it and who doesn’t. Some were happy to accept lifetime achievement awards. Some were B.J. Armstrong.
Without further ado, here’s a look at the eight worst All-Stars in NBA history, the outliers who slipped through the cracks and somehow found themselves walking among basketball’s elite. (All stats reflect games that were played before the All-Star break.)
When you’re 7-foot-4, protecting the rim shouldn’t be a problem. For Mark Eaton, it never was. But it’s sacrilegious to stand that tall and convert fewer than half your field goal attempts, as Eaton did throughout his only All-Star season. When your one appearance happens at age 32, it smells like a fluke, too.
Steve Francis’ third and last All-Star Game appearance isn’t all that ridiculous when you look at his numbers and the era he played in (decent box score numbers forever overrode hideous inefficiency).
But still, the guy received nearly as many votes as Steve Nash and Tony Parker combined. Madness … until you remember he did all this amazing stuff in the dunk contest.
6. B.J. Armstrong, Chicago Bulls, 1994
Stats: 15.8 points, 4.0 assists, 39.3 3PT%
When you’re a point guard on the team that just won three straight titles — habitually obligating millions of fans to melt into hysterics — and made people ask just how popular professional basketball can be, you’re stock automatically shoots through the roof, regardless of how lucky you were to be in the right place at the right time.
That’s B.J. Armstrong on the 1994 Chicago Bulls. Ready to have your mind blown? Only two players in the entire NBA garnered more votes for the 1994 All-Star game: Charles Barkley and Shaquille O’Neal. That’s it!
Shawn Kemp, Gary Payton, Karl Malone, Scottie Pippen, Patrick Ewing, Hakeem Olajuwon, Chris Webber and David Robinson were all in the NBA at that time. Apparently, Armstrong was more popular than them all.
("Thank you, Mr. Jordan. Thank you thank you thank you thank you thank you thank you!” – B.J. Armstrong, every day, probably.)
5. Kobe Bryant, Los Angeles Lakers, 2016
Stats: 16.9 points, 34.9 FG%, 14.0 PER
Kobe Bryant is one of the best basketball players in NBA history. That’s very cool for him. But in 2016, as a 37-year-old gunner on the NBA’s saddest club, it’s impossible to rationalize putting him in the All-Star Game based on this year’s accomplishments alone. The only way any part of his stat line looks respectable is because he’s taking a ton of shots, propping up his per-game scoring average. But look at that field goal percentage. No, really look at it. In what universe is that an All-Star-caliber number?
Kobe Bryant (34.9 FG%): first ASG starter below 35 FG% at break since St. Louis Hawks' Slater Martin in 1958-59 (32.6%), via @EliasSports
There’s an obvious and understandable motivation from fans to vote Bryant in, but news flash to those people: There’s an All-Star Game every year for a reason. Kobe was really good for a really long time, which is why he went to 17 All-Star games heading into his final season. And 17 is enough.
4. Yao Ming, Houston Rockets, 2011
Stats: 10.2 points, 5.4 rebounds
It’s a bit disingenuous to include Yao Ming — an all-around awesome person and player whose career was tragically cut short due to chronic foot injuries — on the list, but this selection, along with Kobe’s, best represents why the fan vote has to go. Yao appeared in five regular-season games in 2011. Five!
It’s not his fault that people really adore him, but it’s still unfair to other, more deserving players who busted it every night. (Fortunately for those guys, Yao didn’t play in the game and was replaced by Kevin Love.) The All-Star Game is all about recognition. Yao didn’t need any more than he already had at the very end of his incredible career.
3. Jamaal Magloire, New Orleans Hornets, 2004
Stats: 12.1 points, 9.4 rebounds, 46.9 FG%
Jamaal “BIG CAT” Magloire is the stock answer whenever you ask an NBA diehard about the worst All-Stars in history, so it’s only right to throw him into the top three. Hollow frontcourt competition in the East helps explain how Magloire made it — he played 22 minutes and scored 19 points in the actual game — but selecting him for an event that’s meant to highlight the cream of the crop devalues what it means to be an All-Star.
2. Allen Iverson, Memphis Grizzlies/Philadelphia 76ers, 2010
Stats: 14.4 points, 2.7 assists
For two weeks in 2009, Allen Iverson wasn’t technically on an NBA team. The Memphis Grizzlies waived him on November 17, and the Philadelphia 76ers signed him on December 2. And yet, Iverson was still selected to play in the 2010 All-Star Game, with a whopping 1.2 million fan votes. He didn’t play in the game and was replaced by David Lee. But similar to Kobe’s situation this year, and Yao’s in 2011, it was Iverson’s final season, and people clearly believed the iconic point guard deserved an invitation.
1. James Donaldson, Dallas Mavericks, 1988
Stats: 7.1 points, 9.8 rebounds, 50.8 FG%
James Donaldson was a 7-foot-2 southpaw whose lone All-Star appearance came in his eighth season, when he was the eighth-leading scorer on his own team. This, um … this will never, ever happen again. All-Star selections are always relative to the field, but, for what it’s worth, Donaldson’s numbers were noticeably better the year before, and he led the NBA in field goal-percentage three seasons prior. Of all the odd selections on this list, none will ever look stranger than Donaldson’s. Poor guy.