And the most ardent Beal supporters are still miffed about their guy’s “Mr. Irrelevant” title.
“That’s disrespectful,” said a Charlotte man, who would only identify himself as “Junebug,” as he waited to meet Beal at a shoe-store appearance Friday. “Someone needs to shoot the threes. . . . [Stephen] Curry’s not the only one who can shoot.”
A guy who goes by “Junebug” probably isn’t going to outwit LeBron James or Giannis Antetokounmpo in a battle of basketball IQ. But that wouldn’t stop the everyday fan from criticizing the all-star captains’ picks. In a straw poll at Beal’s autograph session at Champs Sports, his fans — the kind who spend a Friday night waiting in line at a mall to get 20 seconds of face time with an NBA all-star, at least — said Beal deserved better.
The results ran the gamut, from tepid takes to passionate indignation.
“I guess he shouldn’t be drafted that far down,” said Ryan Vazzana, a 9-year-old wearing a Wizards No. 3 jersey.
Noel Vazzana grew up in Maryland but now lives in Charlotte and is raising his two children as D.C. sports fans. The Vazzana family of four was first in line to meet the last pick of the all-star draft.
“It’s ridiculous,” Vazzana said. “It’s just that the Wizards, with the way they’re playing, they’re kind of an afterthought. It’s a popularity contest.”
In a league that turns its athletes into larger-than-life celebrities and hypes even mundane events as spectacles — tickets were sold for fans to sit in the arena and watch the all-stars give media-day interviews, after all — Beal certainly ranks as a lesser light.
“Brad doesn’t get enough love,” said Brendan Boylan, who wore a teal Charlotte Starter jacket and raced to Beal’s event after seeing all-star Kemba Walker at a meet-and-greet. “He’s still overlooked. As a Hornets fan, we’ve said that about Kemba for years.”
Beal’s publicity team has worked to promote his image. The “Big Panda” nickname and his on-again, off-again relationship with a headband set him apart, to a degree. Even so, the market in which he plays (a political town) and the team he leads (more known for off-court drama than steady success) hurt Beal’s Q Score.
Among his peers, though, Beal has respect: The players ranked him behind only Boston’s Kyrie Irving and Walker in all-star voting for Eastern Conference backcourt players. Still, when it came to picking rosters, the captains drew up alliances, and Beal ended up at the back of the line.
“At the end of the day, I feel like it’s a popularity contest. Let’s just call a spade a spade. It is,” Beal said. “You’re going to pick your friends. That’s what you’re going to do. I’m not best friends with Giannis, and I’m not best friends with LeBron. I know them both, and I’m cordial with both."
One shoe-store conspiracy theorist believed tampering hurt Beal’s chances.
“LeBron’s trying to get all the free agents, show them that he can catch alley-oops from them,” Jordan Luithle said while evaluating a Team LeBron roster that featured Kevin Durant, Anthony Davis and Kyrie Irving.
“All his boys,” Luithle added. “Unfortunately, [Beal] wasn’t one of them."
Beal predicted his fate and even offered to be picked last before the draft. It didn’t seem to bother him then, and now, as he prepares to make his second appearance in the All-Star Game, Beal remains unbothered.
“It’s kind of crazy that guys would be mad if they’re picked last,” he said. “Who cares? It’s 20 of you out of billions of people who play basketball. And out of those billions, this select group are the best players in the world.”
After the last 8-by-10 glossy was autographed, Beal’s job was done. The Champs employees applauded as he walked toward the back of the store, and Beal raised both arms to acknowledge their adoration. Picked last or not, all-stars always get the love.
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