Yao record vote-getter in All-Star balloting

NEW YORK -- Grant Hill of the Orlando Magic edged Indiana's
Jermaine O'Neal by slightly more than 65,000 votes for a starting
spot on the Eastern Conference All-Star team.

Hill received 1,497,489 votes in fan balloting to O'Neal's
1,432,438, allowing him to join Shaquille O'Neal, Allen Iverson,
Vince Carter and LeBron James as the starting five for the East at
the All-Star Game Feb. 20 in Denver.

Yao Ming of the Houston Rockets received a record 2,558,278
votes in winning the starting spot at center for the Western
Conference for the third straight year. He will line up alongside
Minnesota's Kevin Garnett, Tim Duncan of San Antonio, the Lakers'
Kobe Bryant and Houston's Tracy McGrady for the 54th version of the
league's showcase event.

Shaquille O'Neal's 2,488,089 votes were the second highest in
All-Star balloting history, the NBA said Thursday in announcing the
starters. The previous record of 2,451,136 for Michael Jordan of
the Chicago Bulls was set in 1997.
James, the Cleveland Cavaliers' 20-year-old phenom, will be the
only first-time All-Star among the 10 starters. Shaquille O'Neal
was selected to his 12th All-Star team, Garnett to his eighth;
Bryant, Duncan and Hill to their seventh, Carter and Iverson to
their sixth and McGrady to his fifth.

Hill, sidelined for most of the past three seasons after
undergoing four surgical procedures on his troublesome left ankle,
was selected an All-Star for the first time since 2001.
"It's amazing. I haven't expected any of this. I was just
trying to concentrate on coming in and being healthy and not
judging myself or looking at any personal goals," Hill said.
"I've been a little shocked at all this, all the love and
attention -- and I'm thankful for it.
"It is an honor. It makes you feel good. Getting the love from
the fans is a great feeling, because they ultimately support us and
support our league," Hill said.
Jermaine O'Neal, a starter for the east All-Stars a year ago,
missed 15 games earlier this season after being suspended for his
part in a brawl with Detroit fans at a Nov. 19 Pacers-Pistons game.
He is averaging 26.2 points and 9.3 rebounds, while Hill is
averaging 18.9 points, 4.5 rebounds and 3.6 assists.
All-Star reserves, selected by the league's coaches, will be
announced next Tuesday.

Each coach must vote for seven players -- two guards, two
forwards, one center and two others -- from the other teams in his

Stan Van Gundy of the Miami Heat will coach the East team, while
the West will be led by San Antonio's Gregg Popovich.

More than 6 million votes were cast in worldwide All-Star
balloting, a 14 percent increase from a year ago, the NBA said.

Shaquille O'Neal will be a starter for the first time since 2002
after being outpolled by Yao the past two years when both were in
the Western Conference.

"If you look at how he got all those votes, it's not
difficult," O'Neal said. "You can't compete with that, because
where he's from [China], there's a billion people. I don't know how many
people there [are] where I'm from. All them billions probably love
him over there. They don't love me over there."

James becomes the second-youngest All-Star starter in league
history behind Bryant, who was 19 when he represented the West in
the 1998 game.
"To know I've got that many fans, you know, it's a light in my
heart and one of the best things that's happened to me," James