Photo credit: Ezra Shaw/Getty

NBA fans have voted on All-Star starters for decades, and have voted for them online since 2001. This year fans were able to vote on the NBA’s website, app, and a variety of social media platforms. But as Zaza Pachulia’s near-All-Star appearance showed, it’s a pretty easy system to game, right?

ESPN’s Baxter Holmes and Tom Haberstroh talked to a bunch of data scientists and people who work at companies described as “social media intelligence” firms, and the resulting article is fascinating. For the headline finding, they concluded there wasn’t anything fishy going on with Pachulia’s vote total. A shitload of seemingly real people from Pachulia’s home country of Georgia went on Facebook and voted for him to be in the All-Star Game; as simple as that.

They found interesting patterns in the voting for a number of other players as well. Justin Bieber voted for Chris Paul twice on Twitter, and implored his 90+ million followers to do so as well. Ultimately, they were responsible for over 367,000 of Paul’s 735,460 fan votes, though it wasn’t nearly enough to get him voted as a starter. They also talked to a Spurs fan from Macedonia who built Twitter bots to vote for Kawhi Leonard hundreds of thousands of times. Unfortunately for Leonard, the NBA’s filtering mechanism threw out the votes.

There is a bunch more over at ESPN.