Yao receives hightest votes for All-Star Game
The Houston Rockets' Yao Ming, helped by the ability of fans to cast votes on the NBA's multi-lingual website, received a record total of 2.56 million votes for the 54th All-Star Game.
Yao and O'Neal were announced Thursday as starters for the midseason meeting February 20 in Denver, which will feature plenty of familiar faces, one new one and another making a welcome return after a long absence.
China's Yao was voted a starter for the third time in as many NBA seasons despite modest statistics this season of 18.1 points and 8.4 rebounds per game.
O'Neal makes his return as starter for the first time since 2002.
Traded in the offseason, O'Neal has averaged 23.0 points and 10.6 rebounds and has the Heat atop the East.
This will be the 12th All-Star Game for O'Neal, the MVP of last year's contest.
The selection of starters for the Eastern and Western Conference All-Stars was done through fan balloting, which is becoming somewhat predictable. No less than seven players were voted as starters for the third straight year.
One of O'Neal's teammates will be LeBron James, the second-year guard of the Cleveland Cavaliers who received 1.66 million votes and is the only first-time All-Star among the starters.
He is averaging 25.1 points, 7.3 rebounds and 7.5 assists.
James often may find himself matched up with Kobe Bryant, the superstar guard of the Los Angeles Lakers who also entered the NBA out of high school and was voted as an All-Star starter in his second season. Bryant got 1.81 million votes.
Houston's Tracy McGrady (1.99 million) will start alongside Bryant, who remains sidelined with a severely sprained right ankle.
Phoenix guard Steve Nash, who has helped lead the Suns to the NBA's second-best record at 37-11, was third at the position with 1.14 million votes.
Minnesota's Kevin Garnett (2.09 million), the NBA Most Valuable Player last season, and San Antonio's Tim Duncan (1.81 million) are the Western Conference forwards.
Vince Carter of the New Jersey Nets was the leading vote-getter among forwards in the East with 1.8 million votes. Orlando's Grant Hill was second with 1.50 million votes.
Philadelphia's Allen Iverson, the league's leading scorer, will start in the Eastern Conference backcourt with James. Iverson, a six-time All-Star, received 1.59 million votes.