Here’s one accepted truth about the 2018 Washington Wizards: They talk too much. Produce more, pronounce less. Show, don’t tell. You get what you get, and you don’t get upset.
Here’s another: Bradley Beal deserves to make his first all-star team. Which means the East’s fourth-highest-scoring guard probably shouldn’t trail eight players at his position, including a pair of Cleveland Cavaliers guards boasting a combined five starts. And that the first-half MVP for the league’s eighth-best team shouldn’t rank 18th in votes among Eastern Conference players. And that a kid who will soon break the NBA record for the most three-pointers before a 25th birthday remains strangely underrated nationally.
Take those truths together, and you’re left with this reality: Beal somehow needs to encourage more people to vote for him. Without, um, talking.
He has endorsed that platform, too. Both Beal’s agent and his team have asked him to use his social-media reach to ask fans for more votes. He has declined, making only one exception: for a video starring real-life pandas — one of his nicknames — accompanied by various panda-power get-out-the-vote captions. That, he thought, seemed corny enough not to offend. Good luck getting him to go further than that.
“If it has anything that says, ‘Vote for me,’ I’m not posting it. I’m just not posting it,” he said this week. “That’s definitely outside of my box. That’s, like, a few boxes over. I feel like that’s kind of being conceited in a way. Not in a negative way, necessarily, but to me that’s just a little bit of conceit. Like, vote for me? I don’t agree with it.”
With a pitch that strong, it’s a wonder Chris Christie or Martin O’Malley haven’t yet hired Beal as a consultant.
“I just feel like I shouldn’t have to do that just to get votes,” Beal explained. “My game should speak for itself. I mean, it’s not like we’re running for president . . . We just want to play. That’s all. If the accolades come, they come. And if they don’t? They don’t.”
This is the team that talks too much? Look, the stakes aren’t particularly high here. Beal seems almost certain to be picked as a reserve by the NBA’s head coaches. And it’s not like the guard doesn’t have surrogates willing to make his case.
“I’ve been saying it for a year and a half now,” Coach Scott Brooks said. “He’s an all-star. He’s been playing like an all-star. He leads us like an all-star.”
“It’s about time,” said Marcin Gortat, who has no doubt Beal will be selected. “This year there’s hands down nobody better than him at his position. He’s dominating; he’s basically a walking bucket offensively, defensively he made [an] incredible step forward also.”
“I mean, he’s been the MVP of our team,” John Wall said. “I think it should be an automatic lock for him to be an all star. … I think he deserves it. I think he deserved it last year, and he got snubbed, and sometimes that happens in this league. And I feel like this year there’s no way he could be snubbed, at all.”
Wall, though, also acknowledged that Beal earned just 71,000 votes in the first wave, putting him far behind other players who won’t make the team. “That lets you know what it’s all about,” Wall said.
What it’s about is popularity, same as any other all-star event. That’s fine, but it at least makes you wonder why Beal isn’t more popular in this, his sixth season. His Wizards have been to the second round of the playoffs three times in four seasons, something only the Cavs have done in the East. He’s averaging a career-best 23.6 points. He has (at least temporarily) dismissed his most-hated phrase (“injury-prone”), and hasn’t missed a game this season, keeping the Wizards afloat as other starters dealt with health issues. (Beal ranks in the top 10 in minutes played.)
Beal needs 21 more three-pointers to set that aforementioned pre-25th-birthday record, has diversified his game, is on pace to record one of the best scoring seasons for any guard in franchise history — and received fewer votes in the first wave than Cleveland’s Isaiah Thomas, who has played in exactly three games.
“I wish I knew,” Beal said, when asked why he isn’t more popular. “It’s a fine line that I don’t necessarily understand.”
Gortat suggested Beal could be more active on Twitter and Instagram, could try to get more endorsements and more commercials, could think more about marketing, but added that “he’s a quiet guy, family guy, so that’s why he is like that.”
“I would love to be in commercials. I feel like I have a face for it,” Beal said. “I might have to hit up Nike, and be like, ‘Yo, just throw me in a commercial or two and let’s see what we can do.’ ”
Wall wondered whether that would even work. “I mean, I promote myself a little bit, but that’s only gonna go to so far,” he said. “It’s all about that reputation.”
Brooks has stuck to a different message: As long as the team wins, individual recognition will follow. (And yes, the guards would probably earn more votes without the slight whiff of underachievement surrounding the team.) Beal, Brooks said, has never once spoken about the All-Star Game to him, which seems in keeping with his campaign promise. Which isn’t to say this doesn’t matter to him. Becoming an all-star, he said, has been one of his goals since he entered the league. When he didn’t make the game last year — and then was bypassed in favor of Carmelo Anthony as an injury replacement — Beal was so disappointed he didn’t even watch the game.
“I was a little salty, I’m not even gonna lie,” said Beal, who went to the Dominican Republic because he “had to get out of the States,” declining an invitation to participate in the three-point contest.
“If I’m not a part of it, no disrespect to anybody, but I’m not gonna watch it,” he said.
He has been even better on the court this year, but his reputation clearly lags behind his stats. A friend texted him the early results, and when he saw how far behind he was, he thought “that means I’m not getting in.” And in this age of vote-by-social media, any Wizards star begins a few strides behind. The team’s official Twitter account has a bit more than 800,000 followers, one of the lowest totals in the league, and less than a third of teams such as the Boston Celtics and Cavaliers. The numbers are even more daunting on Facebook, where the Wizards have about 1.5 million followers, less than a fifth of the Celtics or Cavs, whose rosters dominate the voting returns.
Which might be why Gilbert Arenas once estimated that he personally filled out 50,000 paper ballots for his own campaign. Wall got an assist from Nicki Minaj the only year he was voted in as an all-star starter; the pop star has far more Twitter followers than any NBA team.
Beal, meanwhile, just laughs as he watches his family members and friends vote for him multiple times every day. He has gotten local celebrity endorsements: from Alex Ovechkin, from Ryan Kerrigan. He hasn’t made plans for the all-star break, because he’s hoping to be in Los Angeles for the event. His platform is convincing. Just don’t expect too much from his stump speech.
“At the end of the day, I’m never the type of player who’d ask for votes, or social media blast myself out there or anything like that,” he said. “If you’re a fan, you’re a fan. If not, it is what it is.”
“Beal 2018: It is what it is.” Maybe it’s just crazy enough to work.
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