Rarely are professional athletes totally in control of their destinies.
Only elite talent have the luxury of being welcomed into any franchise that will have them in the first place, plus the right set of circumstances must also take place in order for that athlete to be in a position where no team has dibs on him and no contractual obligations apply.
Albert Pujols was the most recent household name for whom those stars aligned, who on November 3, 2011 became a free agent for the first time in his illustrious 10-year MLB career. The result was stunning: The two-time World Series champion changed teams, trading St. Louis for sunny Anaheim and earning himself a cool $254 million contact in the process.
When it comes to star athletes picking which franchise they feel like blessing with their presence, however, nothing comes close to the hysteria surrounding the NBA’s LeBron James during the summer of 2010, when the then-reigning league MVP faced a decision about his future so earth-shattering people simply called it “The Decision.”
The choice LeBron ultimately settled on—quite infamously—was to “take his talents to South Beach,” also known as the Miami Heat, and even though the contract he received in return was for a measly $110 million (he could have made at least $18 million more by staying in his home city of Cleveland), he did join a Heat team that made the NBA Finals in his first season and should be a serious title contender for many years to come.
And then there was Peyton.
Now that former Indianapolis Colts quarterback Peyton Manning is officially a free agent, he faces a situation very similar, though also vastly different, than what the NBA’s James did just two summers ago.
Just like James, Manning will enter free agency as a winner of multiple MVP awards.
Just like James, Manning will be leaving behind the only team he has ever played for until this point in his career, and, just like James, he’s leaving a city in which he has built strong roots.
Finally, interesting enough, Manning is probably just as hungry for a championship right now as James was at the time of his decision (Peyton has just one ring right now, James still has none). When you consider how important winning it all would be for each of these guys’ legacies after switching teams, it’s hard to imagine any single factor being more influential when both were weighing their options than that one elusive pursuit.
But those are just coincidences. In reality, the dilemmas surrounding these two superstars were actually very unique in both cause and effect, and as tempting as it may be to link them on the basis of star power alone, doing so fails to acknowledge just how complex the situations each athlete experienced really were.
So whose decision is bigger?
Let’s find out.