Players Who Traded in Legacies to Pursue Rings

Zac Wassink@https://twitter.com/ZacWassinkFeatured ColumnistJuly 8, 2016

Players Who Traded in Legacies to Pursue Rings

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    Are professional athletes who supposedly trade in legacies to pursue rings villains? There is no one answer to that question regardless of the athlete making that decision. 

    Take Kevin Durant as a recent example. Following the 2016 NBA Playoffs, during which Durant and the Oklahoma City Thunder choked away a 3-1 series lead when facing the Golden State Warriors in the Western Conference Finals, Durant elected to trade in OKC's colors for the West Coast and the Warriors.

    Fans of the Thunder are understandably less than pleased with Durant's move. Golden State supporters, on the other hand, will welcome Durant with open arms.

    LeBron James differs from Durant in one major way. James left his hometown region and essentially his home city in the summer of 2010 to take his talents to South Beach and pursue multiple championships. Does James' return to Cleveland and fulfillment his promise to bring a title to northeast Ohio erase his four seasons with the Miami Heat that vilified him in the eyes of some?

    Could one say James returned to Cleveland for similar reasons to those that led him to Miami in the first place? 

    The career of David West is seemingly all about the pursuit of a ring. Marian Hossa first lifted the Stanley Cup in 2010, but not before becoming a villain in the eyes of at least one fanbase. UFC featherweight champion Conor McGregor is chasing championships differently to the other athletes featured in this piece.

    An irony with all of this is some individuals link the legacy of an athlete with the amount of championships and titles they won during their careers. Is that fair? Is Dan Marino any less of a great quarterback because he never won a Super Bowl? Would Marino be remembered any differently had he forced a move to a better club during his career? 

    Think of these and other similar questions the next time you criticize an athlete for pursuing a ring.

Reggie Wayne

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    Certain players shouldn't play for certain teams.

    How weird would it be to see Peyton Manning lining up under center for the New England Patriots? Imagine Sidney Crosby taking over as captain of the Washington Capitals. Granted, we live in a world of free agency, where loyalty in sports is largely a thing of the past, but plenty of valid examples remain.

    Reggie Wayne signing with the New England Patriots deserves a mention. 

    Wayne is, statistically speaking, one of the greatest offensive players in the history of the Indianapolis Colts. Per Stephen Holder of USA Today, Wayne sits second in franchise history in receptions, receiving touchdowns and receiving yards behind only the great Marvin Harrison. In December 2014, Wayne, per the Associated Press (h/t Fox Sports), set the franchise record for games played.

    On that same day, as ESPN.com's Mike Wells explained, Wayne set a record for most wins in the history of the franchise. 

    Yes, the rivalry between the Colts and Patriots will largely be remembered because of Peyton Manning and Tom Brady. But don't forget Wayne participated in those rivalry games for over a decade. Wayne finishing his career with the Patriots looks awkward to this day. 

    Unlike other tales featured here, this story has a happy ending regarding the original legacy of the athlete. Wayne asked for and received his release from the Patriots in September 2015. Patriots radio analyst Scott Zolak explained via his Twitter page that the working environment was "not fun" for Wayne, and thus the wide receiver asked to be released before he played a regular-season game for New England.

    It's a heel turn that finished before it truly started.

Robin van Persie

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    Eight years is a long time. That is how long Dutch striker Robin van Persie spent with Arsenal during his longest one-club stint in the Premier League.

    Van Persie evolved into one of the league's greatest strikers after joining Arsenal in 2004. Per the Gunners' official website, Van Persie netted 132 goals across all competitions during his time in north London. Van Persie's best campaign at Arsenal occurred in 2011-12, when he scored 37 goals and notched 13 assists en route to winning PFA Player of the Season and FWA Footballer of the Year honors.

    The Dutchman's 30 goals led the Premier League in scoring that season.

    RVP wanted more than just personal achievements and Champions League football in the summer of 2012. He wanted to hoist trophies. We don't have to guess about that. Van Persie spoke of this via his website in July 2012, BBC Sport posting portions of that statement. 

    I personally have had a great season but my goal has been to win trophies with the team and to bring the club back to its glory days.

    Out of my huge respect for Mr Wenger, the players and the fans I don't want to go into any details, but unfortunately in this meeting it has again become clear to me that we in many aspects disagree on the way Arsenal FC should move forward.

    Van Persie joined Manchester United before the start of the 2012-13 campaign, and he and his new teammates won the Premier League title that season.

    Arsenal fans did not forget Van Persie's departure, and some refuse to forgive him. As Benjamin Newman of 101 Great Goals pointed out, some took to Twitter to celebrate when Van Persie left United for Fenerbahce last summer. Supporters who used to sing his name at the Emirates Stadium referred to the striker as "Judas" and "Van Pursestrings."

David West

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    Nobody can say they don't know what David West wants at this stage of his career. 

    In fairness, West does not possess a legacy on par with the likes of Durant or James. Some casual fans out there who do not follow the NBA on a weekly basis may even struggle picturing West. The big man, who made his name playing with the New Orleans Pelicans and Indiana Pacers, turns 36 years old later this summer, and West's best days on the court are a thing of the past.

    There is one major thing West's resume lacks: A championship. 

    West, per Andrew Joseph of USA Today, turned down an option of $12.6 million to leave the Pacers and sign with the San Antonio Spurs for the veteran minimum in the summer of 2015. That pursuit of a championship came up short, as it turned out the Spurs were no longer among the top two teams in the Western Conference as of the spring of 2016. 

    If at first you don't succeed, try, try again. David Aldridge of TNT reported via his Twitter page on July 5 that West had agreed to terms with the Golden State Warriors. Per Aldridge, that contract is also worth the veteran minimum.

    You can't blame West. Despite the fact the Warriors lost the 2016 NBA Finals to the Cleveland Cavaliers, it appears likely that Golden State will again contend for a title next season. Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green will all be back with the Warriors, and the club recently acquired Durant. 

    West is nothing if not consistent. 

Conor McGregor

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    Conor McGregor stands out on this list for multiple reasons. For starters, McGregor does not play a team sport. The reigning UFC featherweight champion cannot disappoint teammates or a fanbase by moving from one club to another. 

    This does not, however, mean McGregor cannot negatively affect his legacy by chasing championships.

    McGregor won the interim featherweight championship in July 2015 after his scheduled bout with UFC featherweight champion Jose Aldo was scrapped when the Brazilian picked up an injury in training. The outspoken Irishman unified the titles in December of last year in impressive fashion, knocking Aldo out in 13 seconds at UFC 194.

    That victory grew McGregor's superstar status, and it possibly put him on course toward becoming known as an all-time great featherweight. McGregor wanted more, specifically "to become a two-division champion," per Tristen Critchfield of Sherdog.com. So he challenged UFC lightweight champion Rafael dos Anjos in March 2016. Dos Anjos, like Aldo, injured himself in training, and Nate Diaz replaced Dos Anjos at short notice for UFC 196. 

    Diaz submitted McGregor in the second round of the contest, which was held at welterweight, setting off a sequence of events nobody would've seen coming at the end of 2015. McGregor used multiple social media platforms to retire and then unretire as a fighter, and UFC boss Dana White removed McGregor from the UFC 200 card after McGregor failed to fulfill media obligations. McGregor is scheduled to meet Diaz for a rematch in August. 

    McGregor's featherweight career, meanwhile, is but a memory at this point.

Luis Suarez

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    Liverpool deserved better from Luis Suarez. 

    Even before Suarez signed for Barcelona to join up with Neymar and Lionel Messi and help form what is, per Sid Lowe of the GuardianSpanish football's greatest goalscoring trio, Suarez proved with Liverpool that he possessed the goods to be an elite scorer capable of dominating Premier League opponents.

    Suarez won multiple personal awards at the end of the 2013-14 campaign, including the Golden Boot (given to the leading scorer in the Premier League), PFA Player of the Year and Barclays Player of the Season.

    Suarez also made headlines for the wrong reasons throughout his stint with Liverpool. 

    The Uruguayan infamously earned a lengthy ban in 2011 after being found guilty of racially abusing Manchester United's Patrice Evra during a match. In April 2013, cameras showed Suarez biting Chelsea defender Branislav Ivanovic while the two clubs battled it out at Anfield. Last but not least, Suarez bit Giorgio Chiellini of Italy while on international duty during a match at the 2014 FIFA World Cup. 

    Liverpool repeatedly stood by Suarez. He had, after all, helped Liverpool return to the Champions League, and Liverpool nearly won the Premier League with Suarez leading the charge in 2013-14. The striker agreed to terms on a new contract with Liverpool in December 2013, per BBC Sport, and thus it made sense at the time the club would not sell its best player before its first European fixture of 2014-15. 

    That changed in July 2014, however, as Suarez left Liverpool for Barcelona. 

    Suarez is enjoying life in Spain. As explained by Roger Gonzalez of CBSSports.com, Suarez finished this past season as the leading scorer in La Liga and also as Europe's top marksman. Barcelona, meanwhile, have won back-to-back Primera Division titles with Suarez in the team.

    Liverpool haven't qualified for the Champions League since Suarez's departure. 

Kevin Durant

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    Kevin Durant turns 28 years old roughly a month before the start of the 2016-17 NBA regular season.

    Durant is widely perceived to be one of the best players in the NBA, and he, Russell Westbroook and other members of the Oklahoma City Thunder theoretically could have won the 2016 NBA Finals had they been able to close out the Golden State Warriors after taking a 3-1 series lead over the Dubs in the Western Conference Finals. 

    Perhaps all of this is why so many are criticizing Durant's decision to sign with the Warriors this summer. 

    Former player and current analyst Reggie Miller took to Bleacher Report to hit out at Durant in a piece that was published on July 6: 

    I lost to Michael Jordan. I battled Patrick Ewing and his [New York] Knicks. I lost to Larry Bird and his [Boston] Celtics. I lost to Isiah Thomas and his Bad Boys Detroit Pistons. I lost to Shaquille O'Neal and Penny Hardaway's Orlando Magic.

    You want to go against those guys, against the absolute best, even if you don't win.

    ...

    People always ask, 'What made you stay in Indiana for all those years?'

    This is the best way I can answer that question: Your checkout teller at the grocery store, the attendant at the gas station, the ushers, the waiters, the waitresses—all these fans laughed and cheered with me, and they cried with me after the losses to Shaq, MJ and the Knicks

    We were in it together.

    Miller isn't the only former player displeased with Durant's decision. Charles Barkley stated on ESPN Radio show Mike & Mike (h/t ESPN.com) that he was "disappointed" and that Durant is "gonna kind of gravy train on a terrific Warriors team." 

    Durant's legacy as of July 2016 is complicated. Durant is already the greatest basketball player in Oklahoma City history, but he is also the guy who left town when the going got tough. A lot can and will happen before Durant wins a ring—if that day ever arrives.

    One thing seems certain: Durant's return to OKC while wearing a Golden State uniform will make for must-see television next season.

Chad Johnson

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    Maybe you loved former Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver Chad Johnson. Perhaps the artist formerly known as Chad Ochocinco annoyed you. Regardless of how you felt about him throughout his time in Cincinnati, Johnson's talent cannot be denied. 

    Johnson's offensive output diminished during the 2010 campaign. While Johnson finished that season with 67 receptions, he posted only four touchdown receptions. That, per Pro-Football-Reference.com, was the second time in three seasons Johnson had found the end zone just four times in a campaign.

    In July 2011, the Bengals dealt Johnson to the New England Patriots. Johnson not only happily accepted this move, but per ESPN.com's Joe McDonald, he reworked his contract to make that trade a reality: "Ochocinco was scheduled to make $6.35 million for the Bengals this year. The Patriots wanted him to restructure his contract for salary-cap purposes, and he agreed to facilitate the trade."

    Johnson thus followed in the footsteps of Randy Moss in joining the Patriots in the hopes of winning a championship before riding off into the sunset. Like Moss, Johnson left the Patriots without a ring. Unlike Moss, however, Johnson failed to impress while on the field. Johnson finished his one and only season in New England with 15 receptions and a single touchdown.

Marian Hossa

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    According to a piece posted by the Associated Press (h/t ESPN.com), the Pittsburgh Penguins traded for All-Star forward Marian Hossa in February 2008 with one goal in mind: winning the Stanley Cup that season.

    Hossa teamed up with Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Jordan Staal and others, and the Penguins completed a journey all the way to the Stanley Cup Final. The Detroit Red Wings were the superior side that spring, however, and they defeated Pittsburgh in six games to win the Stanley Cup. 

    The Penguins, per the Associated Press (h/t ESPN.com), offered Hossa a contract following the Stanley Cup Final. Hossa declined that deal and instead decided to join the Red Wings. Hossa left no doubt about why he made that choice: "It was a really tough decision for me to make. When I compared the two teams, I felt like I would have a little better of a chance to win the Cup in Detroit."

    Rather than attempt to help Crosby and Malkin guide the Penguins to an era of dominance, Hossa signed for the reigning champions. Hossa encountered his former teammates the following spring, as the Red Wings and Penguins met for a rematch in the 2009 Stanley Cup Final. This time, however, Pittsburgh defeated Detroit in a memorable seven-game series. 

    Hossa, per Kevin McGran of TheStar.com, felt no remorse for his decision while speaking with reporters immediately after Game 7 of the series: "Regret? I don't regret it. It could be different circumstances if I sign in Pittsburgh, they probably couldn't sign some other players and they'd be a different team. We could sit here for hours discussing this, but it would be a different team and it could be different things."

    Hossa eventually won the Stanley Cup on multiple occasions after signing with the Chicago Blackhawks, rivals of the Red Wings, in 2009.

Gareth Bale

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    Gareth Bale was a revelation under manager Andre Villas-Boas at Tottenham Hotspur during the 2012-13 Premier League campaign.

    Villas-Boas allowed Bale to enjoy more of a free-roaming role rather than keep Bale out on the wing, and the Welsh wonder repaid his boss by scoring a handful of highlight-reel and game-winning goals. Bale, per World Soccer Talk, scored 31 goals across all competitions that season, and Dominic Fifield of the Guardian reported in May 2013 that Bale was set to commit his future to Spurs. 

    Tottenham missed out on Champions League football again that year, however, and Bale disappeared from Spurs team activities at the start of the 2013-14 campaign. On September 1, 2013, Spurs announced what everyone already knew: Bale had joined Real Madrid.

    Bale, through Spurs' website, offered a statement on the matter: “I am not sure there is ever a good time to leave a club where I felt settled and was playing the best football of my career to date. I know many players talk of their desire to join the club of their boyhood dreams, but I can honestly say, this is my dream come true."

    The move worked out well for Bale. The Welshman netted the game winner for Real in the 2014 Copa del Rey final against hated rivals Barcelona and capped off his first season with the Spanish giants by burying the goal that put Real ahead in extra time of the 2014 Champions League final. 

    Most recently, Bale played in the Real squad that won the 2015-16 Champions League and was an integral part of the Wales team that went to the semifinals of Euro 2016. 

    Tottenham fans may always wonder what could have been had Bale remained with Spurs. Even before the summer of 2013, Bale appeared as though he was headed toward becoming a club legend. As Dave Martinez of Empire of Soccer pointed out at the time, NBC Sports used Bale's image on a billboard featured in the heart of Times Square, a sign Bale was to be a face of the Premier League in the United States.

    Bale has instead won multiple trophies while playing alongside Cristiano Ronaldo in La Liga.

LeBron James

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    It is July 2016. Odds are nobody out there needs to ever again hear or read anything about The Decision. You know LeBron James made the move from his hometown Cleveland Cavaliers to the Miami Heat to link up with Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade. You know that Big Three won a pair of NBA Championships. 

    Here is a take you probably won't hear a lot this summer: James made a similar decision in the summer of 2014. He just happened to be returning home in the process. 

    Part of the reason for the move to the Heat six years ago, as the Palm Beach Post's Brian Biggane wrote at the time, was the idea that no one man of the club's main trio would carry the offensive burden. It didn't take a scout's eye to see in the spring of 2014 that Wade's prime had passed. The Heat not only lost the 2014 NBA Finals to the San Antonio Spurs, but the series ended in five games—three of which weren't close. 

    James' return to Cleveland is a heartwarming tale. Via Lee Jenkins of SI.com, James penned an emotional letter to the Cleveland fans, something that resulted in callers to local sports talk radio stations breaking into tears. 

    He also made the right basketball move.

    By signing with Cleveland, James aligned himself with one of the best young guards in the game in Kyrie Irving. Cleveland traded for forward Kevin Love before the end of that summer, a move that meant James was part of a new Big Three. It took a total of two seasons and additional transactions, but James and Co. won Cleveland a championship in June 2016. 

    Twenty years down the road, we'll remember James as the greatest player of his generation and as a basketball legend. We'll also remember all James did for Cleveland and the Cavaliers during his second stint in northeast Ohio. In pursuing a third ring, James cemented his legacy in a way he never could have in Miami.