Tim Bontemps, ESPNJan 25, 2024, 07:26 PM ET
LeBron James became the first player to be named to 20 All-Star teams Thursday night, when he was selected for the Western Conference as part of the league’s unveiling of the 10 starters for next month’s All-Star Game in Indianapolis.
James, who passed Kareem Abdul-Jabbar for the most All-Star nods in NBA history, was joined in the West starting five by Denver Nuggets center Nikola Jokic, Phoenix Suns forward Kevin Durant, Dallas Mavericks guard Luka Doncic and Oklahoma City Thunder guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander.
“I give credit and a lot of respect to my fans who have been along with me through this whole 21-year journey,” James said after the Lakers’ 141-132 win over the Chicago Bulls on Thursday night. “And voting me in as an All-Star starter for the 20th-consecutive time, just very humbled. Very blessed to be able to do what I love to do and just try to give back, give back to the game that’s given me over two decades. So, to be able to know this is the first time ever in NBA history to have this many All-Star starts or whatever the case might be, it’s very cool.”
In the Eastern Conference, Milwaukee Bucks star Giannis Antetokounmpo led the voting and was joined by Philadelphia 76ers center Joel Embiid, Boston Celtics forward Jayson Tatum, Indiana Pacers guard Tyrese Haliburton and Bucks guard Damian Lillard.
It is the second All-Star selection, and first start, for Haliburton, who is representing the host Pacers, and Gilgeous-Alexander.
“This means the world to me,” Haliburton said. “Shout out to all the fans, my peers, and the media for the love that I’ve received, and I’m excited to represent the organization, especially with the event here in Indiana this year. I can’t wait to share this weekend with everyone who played a part in helping me achieve this honor.”
James, who is in his 21st NBA season, continues to defy Father Time, averaging 24.8 points, 7.2 rebounds and 7.4 assists for the Los Angeles Lakers, and breaks Abdul-Jabbar’s mark a little less than a year after surpassing his once seemingly unbreakable career scoring record.
“Kudos to him, man. He’s a victim of his own work and success,” Lakers coach Darvin Ham said before Thursday night’s game against the Chicago Bulls. “It’s crazy. I was thinking about this to myself, like, ‘Damn, he’ll never have an All-Star Weekend to himself just not to have any obligations.’ And do that for 21 years, it’s like, holy, man. Like, oof. But that’s his work. He put that work in. He’s maintained that consistency, that durability. And I’m happy for him.”
Added James: ‘I’ve exceeded anything that I ever dreamed about being in the NBA. And I did that a long time ago. Everything else is just kind of extra credit. I’m very humbled by still being able to play the game I love and have these accomplishments along the way.”
Meanwhile, it will be the 14th All-Star appearance for Durant; eighth for both Antetokounmpo and Lillard; seventh for Embiid; sixth for Jokic; and fifth for Doncic and Tatum.
There was little drama in the voting in either conference. The totals among the fans virtually didn’t change from week to week, with Antetokounmpo, Embiid and Tatum far ahead of the field of Eastern Conference frontcourt players; Haliburton lapping the field among East guards; and James, Jokic and Durant far ahead of the pack in the West frontcourt.
The only places where there was some surprise were the second guard spot in the East, where Trae Young and Lillard went back-and-forth among the fan voting over the past few weeks; and among the three guard spots in the West, where Doncic, Gilgeous-Alexander and Stephen Curry were closely bunched through each of the three rounds of voting.
Ultimately, though, it was Doncic and Gilgeous-Alexander who finished first and second among media and player voting, respectively, to edge Curry. Lillard, meanwhile, finished well ahead of Jalen Brunson in fan voting to earn the starting spot next to Haliburton in the East.
While there wasn’t much drama about the starters, who will be coaching both teams will likely go down to Feb. 4, with the standings that day determining who will be on the sidelines. Last year’s selections — the Celtics’ Joe Mazzulla and the Nuggets’ Michael Malone — are ineligible, because coaches cannot be picked two years in a row. Three teams are within one game in the loss column of each other in the West — the Minnesota Timberwolves, Thunder and LA Clippers — while the Bucks and 76ers are tied in the loss column in the East.
The Bucks, in particular, would be an unusual circumstance, with Doc Rivers taking over this week for the fired Adrian Griffin. It’s the same scenario that played out in 2016, when current Clippers coach Tyronn Lue, then the Cavaliers coach, handled the All-Star Game after replacing David Blatt midseason.
Last season, the voted-in starters were Antetokounmpo, Tatum, Durant, Donovan Mitchell and Kyrie Irving in the Eastern Conference, and James, Jokic, Doncic, Curry and Zion Williamson in the West, though Durant and Williamson wound up missing the game because of injuries.
This year’s game, to be played Feb. 18, will see the NBA return to its traditional East versus West format, having announced earlier this season that it’s scrapping the captains structure that saw the top vote-getter in each conference pick their respective teams.
The reserve selections from each conference, which will be voted on by the NBA’s head coaches, will be announced on TNT on Feb. 1.
ESPN’s Dave McMenamin contributed to this report.