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Yao voted All Star centre

NEW YORK, January 28- Chinese basketball player Yao Ming was named Thursday as the starting Western Conference centre for the NBA's all-star game despite missing nearly all of this season because of serious ankle surgery.

Houston Rockets centre Yao picked up 1.14 million votes to easily beat out Los Angeles Lakers rising star Andrew Bynum by more than 170,000 votes.

In 22 games with the reigning NBA champion Lakers, Bynum is averaging 11.4 points, and 7.5 rebounds per game compared to Yao who has played parts of five games and hasn’t stepped on the court since he played just six minutes of a game against Washington on November 10.

Yao was voted in as a starter for the eighth time in his career despite undergoing season-ending ankle surgery earlier this month.

The flawed vote came about because of a huge backing the injured Yao received from his countrymen in China.

The NBA allows fans to vote for the starters in the February 20 all-star game but reserves are chosen by the coaches. Yao’s replacement will be announced next Thursday.

Those who will actually start for the Western Conference comprise guard Kobe Bryant of the Los Angeles Lakers, forwards Kevin Durant of the Oklahoma City Thunder and Carmelo Anthony of the Denver Nuggets, and guard Chris Paul of the New Orleans Hornets.

Bryant, who will be performing in front of his home fans at Staples Center Arena, was elected to his 13th all-star game.

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LeBron James and Dwyane Wade of the Miami Heat led the starters announced for the Eastern Conference Thursday.

Joining the Heat pair on the East’s team is center Dwight Howard of the Orlando Magic, forward Amare Stoudemire of the New York Knicks and point guard Derrick Rose of the Chicago Bulls.

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