The NBA’s All-Lovable First Team

Examining the league’s most popular, but likable, star players

The NBA: Where player-centric amazement happens.

Indeed, that’s what the NBA does better than any other league in sports; they have the unrivaled ability to market their stars to be bigger than the teams they play for — it’s a league of stars, not teams. Thanks to being much more personable, fashionable, and engaging than other major sports—namely the MLB and NFL, which try their best to deprive players of any personality — professional basketball creates an exciting and distinctive echo chamber of fanaticism. The question is, though, which of the NBA’s shining stars shine the brightest?

Now, don’t get it twisted, this is not a question about which players are the most popular. Nay, it is about which players are loved the most, hence the title of this column. Remember, though, that just because a player is loved by all, doesn’t mean he makes the list. There’s gotta be a balance, you know?

In other words, stars like Demarcus Cousins (popular, but certainly has his haters) and role players like Bismack Biyombo (lovable, especially after the matchup with Cleveland in the playoffs, but not nearly popular enough) each get crossed off for separate reasons. It’s basically like an algorithm for NBA player approval ratings, except completely devoid of real empirical data and instead reliant upon a heavily biased party consisting of only three people (me, myself, and I).

With the All-Star Game coming this weekend, I thought this would be a fun alternative to the “who was snubbed?!?” genre of columns usually pertaining to All-Star festivities. On top of that, it’s Valentines Day! What better way to celebrate this hallmark holiday than talking about lovable professional basketball players? Wait, don’t answer that.

So, without further ado, here are my picks for the players in the NBA who currently have the highest approval rating (and some that I selfishly refuse to allow anyone to hate).

Honorable Mentions

  • Dwayne Wade—There’s something about his surprising departure from Miami that eliminates him from contention. Then again, Miami doesn’t have any fans, so that’s a moot point.
  • Kyrie Irving — The dislike for Kyrie, but my estimation, would come from those who think he’s overrated, therefore making him (barely) miss the list. Also, he’s been the bane of the Warriors existence, and since the Warriors have lots of fans (*wink) that means he’s got lots of haters.
  • Dirk Nowitzki — If this were an article that was based more on overall approval instead of current approval, Dirk easily makes the list. But, for now, he’s just not relevant enough (mostly due to the Mavericks being a cross-off).
  • Kyle Lowry—He just needs that moment. Like, he’s a great player, but is sorta just known as the guy who plays on the team that loses to the Cavs every year.
  • Paul George — Is it just me, or has there literally been nothing substantive of note, from highlight reels to incriminating off-court drama, to say about Paul George? I’m still waiting for the 30-for-30 documentary about the 2013–2014 Pacers second-half collapse, by the way.
  • Mike Conley—I’m 85% sure that Conley is the kind of player Gregg Popovich fantasizes about every night after he has to watch the decaying corpse of Tony Parker play point guard.
  • Jeremy Lin—I have a few selections that made the list for preposterous reasons, so I’ll spare you this one. Lin is, in essence, the current holder of the patented Mickey Mouse award, which is an award I made up while writing this. Everyone knows who he is, but he hasn’t done anything worth mentioning in years.

Steph Curry

Dope Factor: Unprecedented level of approachability. Like, “He’s not an athletic freak of nature, just a dead-eye shooter. I can be just like him!”

Yeah, you know who it is; it’s the baby-faced assassin.

Curry is easily one of the most likable players not only in the NBA, but throughout the entirety of professional sports. He’s a guy who fundamentally changed the culture of basketball, too. Kids watch him and think they can do what he does — and that’s shooting a basketball from absurd distances with remarkable accuracy, unlike the god-like athleticism of someone like Lebron James.

His approval rating would’ve been at 100% if this were done around April of last year, since this summer saw the signing of Kevin Durant. However you feel about that transaction, though, there’s no denying the Warriors have garnered villainous hatred similar to the degree of the Big 3 in Miami. It’s not necessarily about Curry himself, but rather the hatred for the Warriors in general.

J.J. Redick

Dope Factor: Relatively reserved compared to the highly-stigmatized nature of the Clippers being a group of annoying complainers.

As a bitter Clippers fan — and also as a result of a Warriors player making this list — I’m shamelessly going to plug one of my guys. Redick is a fine player, both with his elite shooting and somewhat underrated defensive contributions. He also gets bonus points for being a personality outside of the league; appearances on shows like Any Given Wednesday (R.I.P.) and his own podcast, which an active player has never done before. What’s not to like? Everyone already used up their hatred for him in during his Duke days, so let’s give back a little!


Anthony Davis

Dope Factor: He’s. So. Freakin’. Good.

***27.9 PPG; 12 RPG; 1.3 SPG; 2.5 BPG; 50% FG***

That’s it. That’s Anthony Davis’ biggest strength. Just look at that stat line. Like, just look at it.

Besides the numbers, I would say Davis has a little bit of that “Superstar talent wasted on a dysfunctional franchise” thing going for him. It reminds me a tiny bit of Lebron’s original days in Cleveland. The Pelicans know they have a Hall of Fame-caliber talent on their hands, yet they’ve mortgaged their future by trading away assets to get players that won’t help them get to the promised land.

Damian Lillard

Dope Factor: The dude has bars.

I mean, seriously, how cool is that Lillard can rap? The saying goes: Basketball players wish they were rappers, and rappers wish they were basketball players. This has to mean something! Lillard is the best of both worlds! Also, he’s definitely the current holder of the All-Star Snub award. This is, like, the 3rd time he’s been left off the roster while putting up great numbers

(Although, I will concede that his absence this year is more justified than previous years since the Trail Blazers have been so disappointing. Max Contract Evan Turner! Woot! Woot!!)

Giannis Antetokounmpo

Dope Factor: Sheer athletic astonishment.

Quite easily one of the top-5 most entertaining players to watch in the league right now, the Greek Freak is unlike anyone we’ve ever seen. He practically plays every position, and delivers a “Did he just…what…AGHSGSH!!!” worthy play each week. This guy alone compels me to watch the All-Star game.

John Wall

Dope Factor: Not-so-secretly a top-5 point guard that people haven’t realized is a top-5 point guard yet.

The Wizards are on fire. Aside from Bradley Beal miraculously staying healthy and Otto Porter Jr. developing into a formidable asset, the success of the Wizards starts with John Wall. He’s having a career year, and the numbers remind me of my beloved Chris Paul back when he was with New Orleans. Do you understand how happy this makes me?


If only the Wizards were able to land Durant.

Marc Gasol

Dope Factor: He’s a hardcore, statistically-minded NBA fan’s wet dream.

That above explanation pretty much sums it up. Gasol isn’t necessarily the most exciting big man in the league, but he’s certainly one of the more efficient ones, defensively and offensively.

Side note: I actually feel bad for the Grizzlies. They have the kind of squad that was built to win a decade earlier, with strong big men—Zach Randolph when he was in his prime and the aforementioned Gasol — and a point guard focused on getting everyone involved. Sadly, in a pace and space era, that simply isn’t the winning formula anymore.

Brook Lopez

Dope Factor: Similar to Gasol, gives off that gentle giant vibe.

One thing — asides from their uncanny ability to torpedo their franchise — the Nets have that’s always been consistent is Brook Lopez. Sure, he’s not a superstar of the likes of other noteworthy centers, or been able to stay consistently healthy; he’s just always been there. Also, he’s a big comic book fan, which makes him invincible as far as I’m concerned.

Kawhi Leonard

Dope Factor: In the words of Gregg Popovich, he has that lovable “Bored to death” demeanor.

Have you ever met someone that legitimately had a gripe with Kawhi Leonard? Perhaps one would argue it’s because of their distaste for the Spurs’ high-octane-deprived way of play, but Leonard doesn’t seem like a guy that’s even remotely deserving of any animosity. The man doesn’t show any emotion for you to target anyways.

Couple of cool things about Leonard that I’ll never forget:

  • One of the few (possibly only) player I’ve ever seen to have great success guarding Lebron James (see 2013–2014 NBA Finals), the undisputed best player in the world.
  • Sticking with those Finals, and if I’m remembering this correctly, Leonard was awarded the Finals MVP and, at the time, hadn’t even been selected to an All-Star team before.

Isaiah Thomas

Dope Factor: The best value pick we’ve seen in 10 years. Yes, that’s an arbitrary length of time because confession: I know nothing about basketball (fooled ya).

Unless you’ve got the basketball knowledge equivalent to Amy Schumer in Trainwreck, you’ve probably heard of how outrageous Isaiah Thomas’ play has been of late. He’s a 4th-quarter maniac. He’s 5'9 (that’s how tall I am!) And, as I alluded to before, he was the last (!) pick of the 2011 NBA Draft (60th overall). What’s not to like?

J.R. Smith


  1. G.

2. O.

3. A.

4. T.

Kristaps Porzingis

Dope Factor: A talented young prospect that has succeed on a shambled Knicks franchise.

Someone should seriously photoshop a picture of Porzingis onto the poster for A New Hope. After getting booed at the draft, Porzingis has not-so-quietly silenced the haters and become…[loud explosion, mushroom cloud image]…THE LATVIAN GANG BANGER. Okay, maybe not that last part, but the rise of Porzingis has been remarkable. When’s the last time the Knicks made a good move?

Remember when they traded their entire team for Melo? Remember Raymond Felton? Remember when Dolan fired their GM after their most successful season? Remember when [insert any move Phil Jackson has made with the exception of drafting Porzingis]?

The Knicks drafting Porzingis is reminiscent of how I felt when the Raiders took Khalil Mack. Two franchises that have made terrible decisions (Knicks: See Above, Raiders: Drafting every bust ever) that used their top pick to draft a guy with some questionable intangibles (Mack not playing for a high-profile school, Porzingis being a foreign product without the usual experience of playing with American players).

Joel Embiid

Dope Factor: Social media etiquette is second to none. Period.

You knew he was going to be on here; the great Cameroonian master of disaster. That’s right, it’s The Process himself: Joel Embiid. He rightfully deserves the final spot on the list, and I’m fairly confident there isn’t a single person that isn’t on the Embiid bandwagon (I know my friend Mike Cavalier is).

Despite it being just his first real season, Embiid has already become one of my five favorite players in the league (Chris Paul will forever be #1, followed by Jeremy Lin, J.J. Redick, and Carmelo Anthony). Words can’t describe how vehemently upset I was that Embiid didn’t make the All-Star team, since I’m pretty sure there are a total of zero people that would rather watch Paul Millsap play. It was the biggest heartbreak I’ve had since high school.

Yeah, love is stupid, but so undeniably and fabulously necessary.

Happy Valentines Day everyone.