LeBron, Howard headline East squad

ORLANDO, Fla. -- He was the first to dress as Superman to win a dunk contest.

He's now the first player to get 3 million votes from fans.

Yes, the All-Star game is fast becoming Dwight Howard's personal showcase.

The Orlando Magic center -- who leads the NBA in rebounds, blocked shots and double-doubles -- got a record 3,150,181 votes to lead this season's All-Star team, released Thursday.

The Feb. 15 game in Phoenix will mark the third All-Star trip for Howard, who'll be starting for the second time and easily topped the previous record of 2,558,278 votes collected by Houston's Yao Ming four years ago.

"Wow, what a blessing," said Howard, the 6-foot-11 center who dressed in full Superman regalia, cape and all, on the way to winning last year's slam dunk competition. "That is what I took it as, a blessing from God and then the fans. It's just a great honor and I was surprised, but like always I thank the fans for everything they have done for us."

The final results of fan balloting didn't exactly bring any major surprises.

Miami's Dwyane Wade (2,741,413) and Detroit's Allen Iverson (1,804,649) will be in the East's backcourt, alongside reigning All-Star MVP LeBron James of Cleveland (2,940,823) and Boston's Kevin Garnett (2,066,833), who beat New Jersey's Yi Jianlian for the starting nod by 253,004 votes.

"The All-Star game is always so meaningful to me because of the fans," said James, whose 24.3-point scoring average is the highest in All-Star game history for players with four or more appearances.

Kobe Bryant of the Los Angeles Lakers (2,805,397) was the West's top vote-getter, and will be joined at guard by New Orleans' Chris Paul (2,134,798). At center, Yao (2,532,958) will start for the sixth time, along with forwards Tim Duncan of San Antonio (2,578,168) and Amare Stoudemire of Phoenix (1,460,429).

"When I first heard I was leading in votes, I was shocked, to be honest with you," Howard said. "I really didn't expect anything considering you have guys like Kobe, LeBron and Dwyane."

Howard entered Thursday averaging 20.2 points, 14.1 rebounds and 3.2 blocks for the Magic, who took the league's best overall record (33-8) into a home game against the reigning NBA champion Boston Celtics.

But on the national stage, Howard still might be best-known for his exploits in last year's All-Star dunk contest in New Orleans, with his cape sailing on one jam and capping his night by using teammate Jameer Nelson as a prop in another slam.

"That's his element there. He's an entertainer. He loves it," Magic coach Stan Van Gundy said. "I think sometimes people look at that kind of thing, where Dwight's out there having a good time, and they doubt the seriousness of a guy. That's not the case at all. He's very serious about winning and very serious about being a great player."

Van Gundy likened Howard's All-Star antics to what the NBA has come to see from another giant jokester -- Shaquille O'Neal.

"Like Shaq, Dwight is a great person who loves to make other people smile and laugh," Van Gundy said. "That's what really makes him go. He likes to have a good time and he likes to help other people have a good time. It's his nature. It's his character."

That all being said, O'Neal is reluctant to anoint Howard as the game's, well, next Shaq.

"He's a good player, but everything he's done I've invented, so I'm not impressed," O'Neal said. "For me to get my eyes wide open about another big man, he'll have to do something that I haven't seen before or something that I haven't invented. Everything that he's done, I've invented it."

For Garnett, it's his 12th All-Star selection -- second-most among active players behind O'Neal's 14 trips. O'Neal could see that total increase by one; he could easily be announced as a reserve when coaches' balloting to fill out the seven remaining spots on each roster are announced next week.

"It's like a good wave, man," Garnett said. "If you've surfed the boogie board, you know you ride it 'til it dies out. And I love boogie boarding. It's all about that good wave and holding on and holding on for dear life. And once it's over, you crash and you go out and try to find the next one."

Much like the East, the West voting was a bit predictable.

Stoudemire's spot turned out to be the most vulnerable; he nipped San Antonio's Bruce Bowen -- who isn't even starting for the Spurs right now -- in the starters' balloting by 68,031 votes.

Plenty of late voting helped shape the West starting five.

The league's next-to-last voting update, released on Jan. 22, showed Denver's Carmelo Anthony -- who's currently sidelined with an injured right hand -- ahead of Stoudemire by 10,431 votes, plus Houston's Tracy McGrady leading by a 157,063-vote margin over Paul.

Neither lead held up.

Paul wound up prevailing by nearly a half-million ballots, and Stoudemire took his appeals directly to voters.

Stoudemire launched an Internet campaign -- www.vote4Amare.com -- and Anthony said Thursday he probably would have given him the spot anyway.

"He's in Phoenix," Anthony, who finished fifth among West forwards behind the starters, Bowen and Houston's Ron Artest, told The Denver Post. "It's his All-Star game."

In all, five players (Howard, James, Bryant, Wade and Duncan) all topped Yao's previous record vote mark.

"It's always an unbelievable honor, because there's so many great players in this league and so many young guys coming in, when you get named a starter from the fans," Wade said.