The NBA All-Star Game, which dates back to 1951, has always been a midseason showdown between the best players from each conference. From Magic Johnson and Hakeem Olajuwon teaming up to represent the West to Allen Iverson and LeBron James joining forces to lead the East, the game has consistently showcased a copious amount of talent playing for their respective coast.
In 2017, however, the NBA decided a change to one of the league’s main events was needed.
Following a wave of non-competitive All-Star games -- including blowout victories, uninspired defense and high-scoring affairs -- alternative options began to be explored. As a result, the traditional roster selection method vanished and a new format was introduced.
An NBA All-Star draft.
How it works
Two captains go back and forth drafting from a pool of 22 players that were voted as All-Stars, picking starters first and reserves next. Each selection is made without regard for conference affiliation. The captains are the All-Star starter from each conference who receives the most fan votes in his conference.
The idea was initiated by NBPA president Chris Paul, who reached out to Commissioner Adam Silver about revamping the format. It became implemented during the 2018 All-Star Game.
The “backyard-basketball” style adds a different form of intrigue, balance and creativity (such as captains trading their draft picks). Teams also play for community-based organizations now, with donations directed toward outreach efforts that benefit the All-Star host city.
Conference affiliation still matters when it comes to voting, with 12 players from both the East and West earning spots. The 10 starters – two guards and three frontcourt players per conference – are chosen by a combination of fans (50 percent of the vote), current players (25 percent) and basketball media (25 percent). The players and media were granted a vote in 2017 – only fans selected the starting lineup before then.
The 30 NBA coaches select the 14 reserves, voting for two guards, three frontcourt players and two players at any position in their respective conferences.
Commissioner Silver selects the replacement for any player unable to participate in the All-Star Game, choosing a player from the same conference as the player who is being replaced. Silver’s selection would join the team that drafted the replaced player. The commissioner also has the power to create a special roster addition, which he did for the first time in 2019.
Each All-Star Game coach leads the team that includes the captain from their same conference. The way the head coaches are determined is via a best-record scenario, meaning coaches whose teams are first in their respective conferences two weeks before the All-Star Game earn the nod (a coach can’t participate for two years in a row, however).
The draft was held off camera during its inaugural session, but became televised in 2019. James and Giannis Antetokounmpo made their selections live on TNT, and at one point, agreed to a trade. James sent Russell Westbrook to Team Giannis, while Antetokounmpo sent Ben Simmons to Team LeBron.