ELECTION SEASON

Secaucus, NJ, Nov. 13, 2006 – Really, when you get down to it, life’s just one big popularity contest.

Whether you’re the quarterback of the high school football team or were named homecoming queen, the quest for adoration doesn’t end when you graduate. Some, then, pursue acting in hopes of becoming a celebrity, while others are content to help decide the next big star by voting online for their favorite reality TV personality.

Then there are more everyday measures of fame, such as Digg, Technorati, the New York Times' most- lists and even the results returned when you Google yourself.

Chances are, unless your name is something like Britney Spears – but not Kevin Federline – Google still won’t show you the love All-Star voters have Yao Ming the last two seasons. When it comes to balloting, there’s one big man the fans want to see at starting center in the West come All-Star Sunday.

The last two years, Yao edged Kobe Bryant (2,342,738 - 2,271,631) and Shaquille O'Neal (2,558,278 - 2,488,089) as the top overall vote-getter, and, given his career's resurgence of sorts this season, he could claim the distinction a third straight year when NBA All-Star balloting officially begins today.

He's got my vote. Yao along with Steve Nash, Chris Paul, Carmelo Anthony and Tim Duncan dot my Western Conference ballot. In the East, chads hang beside the names Allen Iverson, Joe Johnson, LeBron James, Chris Bosh and Dwight Howard.

Starting at the top, Yao’s designation as the game’s best pivot should be pretty clear after what he did this weekend. It’s still early in the season, but Yao’s numbers are up across the board and he thoroughly dominated the Knicks and Heat in his most recent outings, leading to player of the week honors in the West.

If voters agree with me, Yao will be making his fifth straight start in the West, having made the squad in every season since entering the league, and will be joined by first-timers Paul and Anthony. The Hornets' second-year point guard and Nuggets' fourth-year swingman arguably should have made the West squad a season ago, but were left off the roster after coaches selected the reserve unit. That should change this year.

Paul is no longer a rookie putting up decent numbers on a surprising team. He's a legit backcourt playmaker – ranking third in the league in assists per game at 9.1 – on a team expected to reach the playoffs this season.

Hoops fans were re-introduced to Anthony when he starred on a global stage, earning all-World honors in the 2006 FIBA World Championship. His Nuggets team may have struggled a bit to open the season, but his scoring and assists averages are up and he should figure as a fan favorite for the first of many years to come.

Rounding out the West is a no-brainer. Duncan and Nash are the best at their position and, some might say, tops in the entire league, as evidenced by each winning the league’s MVP award twice. In addition, Duncan has started every All-Star Game with the exception of his rookie season. This year will be no different.

Moving East …

Now, don’t hate me for saying this, but, while Wade is deserving of an All-Star bid, the coaches will have to send him there, not me. Now fans, you might disagree with me and have Wade in at the tip, for which I can’t argue against. It’s just that I have two guard spots I can fill and those go to Iverson and Johnson.

Iverson has a lifetime pass, in my opinion. He’s exciting to watch, he routinely flirts with 30 ppg, he’s a two-time All-Star Game MVP, and, now in his 11th season, he’s averaging a career-high in assists while guiding his team to a solid start – if you forget the recent three-game skid.

With Iverson getting one of my automatic nods, it’s Johnson forcing Wade to the bench. Johnson is playing like the man in Atlanta, where he has the Hawks, at 4-2, alone atop the Southeast Division standings. Yes, the Hawks! Johnson’s been a consistent force in all of those contests, registering at least 25 points in every game thus far, while shooting 48.1 percent from the field and 41.5 percent from three on the season.

James gets the start at one of the forward spots. No question, debate or argument allowed. He’s just that good.

The East’s front court is completed with Toronto’s Bosh, making his first start, and Orlando’s Howard, making his first team.

Bosh may not get the same attention as his Class of 2003 peers but he’s the main focus in Toronto and should come to be appreciated more in the U.S. This year, his numbers are up across the board and he ranks second in the league with 12.5 rebounds per game, to go along with 21.0 points per night.

The only player pulling in more boards than Bosh is Howard, who looks to be one of the most dominant big men for many years to come. It’s simply inexcusable that Orlando could find a total of only 16 attempts for Howard over a three-game stretch earlier this month – especially given that Howard hits 60 percent of everything he throws in the direction of the iron, which ranks eighth in the league. It’s also inexcusable to vote for anybody other than Howard as the East’s starting center.

Now, just because I’ve made my case for why I’m voting the way I am, don’t feel bad if you cast a ballot for Nenad Krstic or Hakim Warrick. They need their share of love, too, and we’ll just call you Homer. After all, there are plenty of fans just like you out there. You know, the ones who vote for the home team's starting five, as I did the Pistons' a year ago.

Or maybe you'll vote for a Tracy McGrady type, a big name you've heard in years past. A little name recognition always works. Or you'll choose to vote every 24 hours for Kobe Bryant because, well, he dropped 81 last season, so he has to be in the game. Or maybe you watched the Bucks game Saturday night and can’t imagine a game of hot shots without a big-time shooter like Michael Redd. Bryant and Redd have been there before and should again this year. I simply believe that, at this present moment, they’re not my starters.

That’s just me. I never won any popularity contests, so I don't get wrapped up in them. And I don't base any decision on one or two shining moments. Plus I usually try to be an educated voter.

But, yes, I do enjoy reading about myself via Google.

What say you?