At Fantasy Knuckleheads we generally focus solely on the fantasy side of sports, but every once in a while there is a story that goes deeper than fantasy or the sport itself.
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Last night after watching and reading about James departure for Miami, I got to thinking about the lack of loyalty in sports. I understand wanting a chance to be financially secure, and I get the desire to play for a winning team, but James had all that. In fact, he created it. That makes his decision yesterday that much more disheartening.
Michael Jordan spent most of his professional NBA career with one team, The Chicago Bulls. John Stockton spent his with the Utah Jazz, Magic Johnson , the Los Angeles Lakers, and Larry Bird , the Boston Celtics. These are men I respect not only for their skills, but their loyalty not only to their teams, but to the cities who loved and supported them unfailingly.
Cleveland is not a Chicago, New York, Los Angeles, type of town, but they embraced LeBron James , and the Cavaliers made him the first overall pick of the 2003 NBA draft.
He was all the city and team could have hoped for, in rallying a hopeless NBA bottom feeder into a consistent play-off team.
James’ was fortunate enough to be drafted by a team that brought him back home, having played his high school basketball at St. Vincent-St. Mary High School in nearby Akron, Ohio. His NBA selection as a turning point in the LeBron’s life as well as the Cavaliers franchise.
LeBron was immediately embraced by Clevelanders, and dubbed “King James.” James became a dominating player right out the gate, winning the NBA Rookie of the Year Award. In his sophomore season, he not only got better, but led his team to a fight for the final play-off spot, just missing out.
During the 2005 off-season, new owner Dan Gilbert stepped in with new Coach Mike Brown, and the team went on to their first play-off appearance since 1998. The following season the team made it to the NBA finals, and since 2005 have not missed the play-offs with James on the court.
LeBron’s days as a Cav ended yesterday as the star spent better than a week tormenting Cleveland fans about where he might ultimately end up. Thursday night he publicly announced his move to the Miami Heat. Miami’s gain is Cleveland’s loss in more ways than one. It’s also LeBron’s loss.
The public snubbing was so poorly handled that Cavs owner immediately lashed out by way of an open letter to the team’s fan base in which he called James a coward, and selfish betrayer.
Gilbert wrote of the way James handled his departure as; “a several day, narcissistic, self-promotional build-up culminating with a national TV special of his ‘decision’ unlike anything ever ‘witnessed’ in the history of sports and probably the history of entertainment.”
While Dan Gilbert may have slightly over-dramatized LeBron’s departure, he does make some valid points. Still, it’s James right to test the waters elsewhere. But what has happened to loyalty in sports?
The loss of James is made more bitter for Cleveland fans because of the ever-lingering memory and betrayal of losing their beloved football team to Baltimore after the 1995. This, after owner Art Modell snuck the team out of town in the middle of the night.
LeBron James could have been more than just an NBA icon. He could have been one of those special and enduring players who spent his career with one team. A franchise and a city that needed his support and loyalty–that needed a bit of the love they gave back tenfold. Was it about money? No, he makes more than he could ever spend. Was it about winning? No. James could easily have won a title as a Cav. He could have forever been a hero in his home state. Now he will forever be a reviled villain who showed and chose a selfish and greedy nature over the better qualities he might have aspired to.
James may forever be known as one of the NBA’s greatest players, but true sports fans, especially in the heartland, will remember him as just another greedy and selfish star who cared only about his own ego and bank account.
He may have earned our respect as a basketball player, but he’s lost it as a human being.
Not that James is the only one to leave a small market team to pad their ego and bank account. It happens all the time. Alex Rodriguez and his move from the Seattle Mariners to a $250 million dollar deal with the Texas Rangers, was both embarrassing and bad for the game.
Is it all the fault of the players? Of course not. Many owners show loyalty only to their bottom line. It's just business for them. But we expect more of our star players, because they are role models and in many ways, heroes for millions of children. What message has LeBron James sent to kids who wish to emulate him? He had money, fame, and a winning team with a city that loved and adored him. Yet he still chose just a bit more money (larger markets mean increased endorsements, and he'll save $5 million in state taxes) and a glitzier city over all the good he had built and could have built as an icon and legend in Cleveland.
Shame on you, LeBron. Shame on all of those who get to play a child’s game for a living, and forget that it’s the next generation of children that they inspire and set an example for who learn that money and winning are all that matter.
I’ll take guys like Bird, Stockton, Magic, and Jordan any day, over someone who’s all about the Benjamins and self-aggrandizing.
This opinion is mine and does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the entire Fantasy Knuckleheads staff.