NEW YORK — Kobe Bryant called for younger players in the All-Star game, and the fans listened.
They still want Bryant, too.
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Stephen Curry, Kevin Love, Paul George and Kyrie Irving were voted NBA All-Stars Thursday, putting four first-time starters in the Feb. 16 game in New Orleans.
Bryant was elected by fans to his 16th All-Star game, second-most in NBA history, but this one is shaping up as a kids’ game.
Curry, perhaps the biggest snub last season, will join him in the Western Conference backcourt. Love passed Dwight Howard in the final days of voting and will start in the frontcourt along with Oklahoma City’s Kevin Durant and the Clippers’ Blake Griffin.
“Hey, I’m popular now,” Love joked. “It’s very humbling to me to be starting in the All-Star game. I tip my hat to the fans in the Twin Cities and all over Minnesota and beyond.”
The four first-time starters are all 25 or younger. Curry went to All-Star weekend as a kid when his father, Dell, competed in the 3-point contest, and now he’ll finally get to play in the game.
“It’s kind of just a surreal feeling,” Curry said. “I saw Kobe come on the screen and you knew that next person on the screen was going to be me or I was going to get left off that list. Just when I saw my name it was a real emotional kind of experience and glad my wife and daughter were here to watch it with me.”
LeBron James was the leading vote-getter with 1.4 million and Miami teammate Dwyane Wade also was voted in Thursday. George, who has led Indiana to the league’s best record, and New York’s Carmelo Anthony are the other East forwards, and Irving will start at guard.
Bryant has been limited to just six games this season because of injuries and will be out until at least early next month. He said recently he hoped fans wouldn’t vote for him and would instead look toward younger, more deserving players.
Fans picked him anyway. Only Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, with 19, was selected to more All-Star games.
But even Bryant could finish only second to Curry among West guards, a remarkable turnaround for the Golden State sharpshooter. He was the highest-scoring player not chosen last year, but moved past the Clippers’ Chris Paul in the third returns of balloting, then passed Bryant in the final days to finish with more than a million votes and become the Warriors’ first All-Star starter since Latrell Sprewell in 1995.
“I understand how big a deal it is to be selected on the team,” Curry said. “And just how different the feeling was from last year, having gone through that experience and just trying to get back healthy, first and foremost, to give myself a chance come All-Star selection time.”
Love also made a late move to surge into the top three, finishing about 8,000 votes ahead of Houston center Dwight Howard to become Minnesota’s first All-Star starter since Kevin Garnett in 2007.
“I was hoping for the best and preparing for the worst, and knowing the worst was I was going to still probably end up in the All-Star game (as a coach’s pick) and represent the West and the Wolves and the Twin Cities.” Love said. “Right now, I’m very happy.”
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Indiana hadn’t had one since Jermaine O’Neal a year earlier, but now George will get to play for Pacers coach Frank Vogel, who has already clinched the East’s coaching spot.
“It means a lot because that means the fans are really watching us as a team,” George said. “For us to have the No. 1 record in the league, and playing at a high level, I think the fans are starting to follow us as a whole and I think that’s the biggest thing with me being a starter.”
The reserves will be announced next Thursday. Head coaches in each conference will vote for two guards, three frontcourt players and two players regardless of position.