Results are in from the NBA's chief popularity contest.
And the returns revealed Kevin Durant is growing into one of the game's giants.
Durant, the fourth-year star for the Oklahoma City Thunder, has been selected by fans as a starter in the 2011 NBA All-Star Game. It will be Durant's second straight All-Star appearance but his first as a member of the starting five.
Durant led all Western Conference forwards with 1,736,728 votes and was second to only Los Angeles Lakers guard and overall leading vote-getter Kobe Bryant — who garnered 2,380,016 votes — among Western Conference players.
The voting verified, once and for all, that Durant is no longer the league's best kept secret. No longer is Durant a hidden gem in Oklahoma City. More than 1.7 million All-Star ballots suggest Durant's skills are now being recognized stateside as well as overseas.
A year ago, Durant took in 870,567 votes, ranking 18th among all NBA players. This year, only five players received more votes than Durant. The spike is a tribute to Durant's previous three seasons of steady improvement and his one spectacular summer of 2010.
“It feels good,” Durant said. “It's a great accomplishment to be voted in by the fans. It's something that I really appreciate. I wish I could personally thank everybody who voted for me.”
In addition to Bryant, Durant is scheduled to be joined by New Orleans point guard Chris Paul and Denver forward Carmelo Anthony in the starting lineup for the Western Conference All-Star team. Houston center Yao Ming also was voted in as a starter, but Yao will not compete because of injury. NBA commissioner David Stern will pick a replacement following the conference coaches' selection of the team's reserves, which will be announced Feb. 3.
Eastern Conference starters for the Feb. 20 All-Star Game inside Staples Center in L.A. include Chicago point guard Derrick Rose, Miami guard Dwyane Wade and forward LeBron James, New York forward Amar'e Stoudemire and Orlando center Dwight Howard.
James, Wade, Rose and Howard are the other four who received more votes than Durant. Rose will be this year's only other first-time starter.
“I'm just being myself and going out there and playing the game I love. And I guess people respect that,” Durant said.
Durant, the 2008 Rookie of the Year, became the youngest player ever to lead the league in scoring last season when he averaged 30.1 points before finishing as the runner-up for MVP. Durant again leads the league in scoring this season, averaging 28.6 points while captaining the Thunder to a 29-16 record. Durant has scored at least 30 points in 17 games this season, and he has three games of 40 points or more.