Making the all-star team is quite an honor. It may not be the same as making an all-NBA team (a distinction that shows a player is one of the best 15 or so players in the league), but making the mid-season classic is something to be proud of nonetheless. As Lakers fans, we’ve become quite used to seeing one (or more) of our guys suit up for the west squad. Kobe’s made the team 14 consecutive years as a starter. Way back in 1998 he made his first appearance and has been a mainstay ever since. For him, it’s become as much of a right as a privilege with fans voting him in for the better part of a decade and a half. This, though, isn’t the norm. Some players live on the cusp of making this team but never do.
I bring all this up because while we celebrate Kobe and his accomplishments it’s kind of easy to forget that another Laker was voted into the west’s starting lineup this year. Andrew Bynum is making his debut as the Center of choice later today and for him, it’s been a long time coming.
Long considered one of the up and coming big men in the league, the only thing that’s held big Drew back are injuries. Back in his break out year of 2008, Bynum was a surefire candidate to make this team before that horrid January night in Memphis that ended his season. The next year, the acquisition of Pau Gasol and another injury kept him from consideration. Last year his longer than anticipated recovery from off-season knee surgery kept him out of too many games and rustiness upon his return kept this honor out of his grasp.
Basically, Bynum has been the all-star big man that wasn’t an all-star. Everyone knew of his potential to reach this game and his production when healthy would have warranted a selection in several other seasons. The fact that it had not happened until this year was surely frustrating for him but also (likely) served as motivation for him to play well and stay healthy enough to show his worth.
Today, though, the goal will be reached. Bynum will jump tip against Dwight Howard in a game that features the guys the fans want to see flash their skills and the coaches believe to be the best players in the game. Today, the talk of Bynum being “an all-star caliber big man” goes from being a comment about what he could be to what he actually is. And for that, Lakers fans should be proud. Proud for Drew reaching his goal, but also for the fact that once again the Lakers have a young and up and coming behemoth manning the pivot for the team that represents the best the western conference has to offer.
And while this may be the first all-star game Drew plays in, it certainly won’t be the last. Because even though the age of the back to the basket big man is nearing its end, Bynum’s power game endures and will have staying power. Most of today’s bigs may flash games that stretch to 20 feet with face up moves off the dribble replacing the power back downs of a generation ago, but Bynum’s throwback style remains as effective today as it would have been in any other era. And with that style, he too should be a mainstay in this game (even if not at the same frequency of his more celebrated Laker teammate).
So, take some time to appreciate how far Bynum has come. Seven years ago he was a pudgy out of high school kid that the Lakers’ brass took a chance on. The foundation of tools was there but needed molding before reaching this level. After countless hours of hard work and fighting through setbacks, he’s finally here. And, likely, here to stay.