With LeBron James's announcement that he is off to Miami to seek out greater fortunes with Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh, and the Miami Heat, words like dedication and loyalty have been being bandied about quite a bit lately.
LeBron now plays for Miami, fine. He had every right to follow his heart and try to play for a championship.
But not everyone thinks the way LeBron does. Some athletes over the years have attempted to bring the championship to their team rather than trying to bring themselves to a championship.
Here is a list of the 24 most loyal athletes in team sports history.
(By the way, it should be noted that staying with one team for a long time before the free agent era was less a sign of loyalty and more a sign that players couldn't leave teams as freely as they could once free agency became widespread. So don't look for a lot of Stan Musial and Bill Russell types on this list.)
Craig Biggio never had a whole lot of incentive to leave Houston because during his tenure there the 'Stros were usually winning, and the front office had a tendency to overpay him.
Nevertheless, 20 years with one team in the free agency era is amazing.
Pat Leahy was the place-kicker for the New York Jets for 18 years and went to the playoffs four times.
Ray Lewis has won a Super Bowl with the Baltimore Ravens, but he has also played on some Raven teams that were going absolutely nowhere.
One of the greatest middle linebackers of all time, it would not have been shocking to see him jump ship at some point during the Kyle Boller Era to go play for the Patriots and win another Super Bowl.
At the age of 26, Yount won the AL MVP but lost in the World Series to the St. Louis Cardinals. Yount had more than enough opportunities to leave Milwaukee, but never did.
He never again played in the playoffs, but he is in the Hall of Fame.
Could Darrell Green have left the Washington Redskins at some point during the 20 years he played with them? Sure. He was a top-notch corner, and those are always in demand.
Plus, the 'Skins missed the playoffs in nine of his last 10 seasons.
And yet he stayed.
You're thinking he doesn't belong on this list. You're thinking "But the Spurs are Duncan's team. Why would he ever think to leave the Spurs? It's not like he isn't the star in San Antonio."
My thoughts exactly.
Baylor wasn't loyal because he stayed with the Lakers.
Rather, because he was loyal in leaving the Lakers.
In 1972, at the end of his career, Elgin Baylor realized the Lakers would be better without him, and retired a handful of games into the season.
The Lakers promptly went on their infamous 33-game winning streak and would later win the NBA Championship.
Upon learning that he'd been traded to the hated New York Giants, he refused to go, and promptly retired.
Let's not pretend that Barry Sanders never let the frustration of playing for the Detroit Lions show, because he did.
Nevertheless, in 10 seasons as one of the greatest running backs of all time, Sanders played tirelessly and rarely complained openly.
Years after his abrupt retirement at the age of 30, Sanders admitted that the hopelessness of playing for the Lions forced him from the game before his time.
The Houston Rockets lost in the first round of the playoffs in Hakeem's first season, then lost in the NBA Finals in his second season.
Over the next seven seasons, the Rockets would lose in the first round four times, the semi-finals twice, and not even make the playoffs once.
Finally, after nine seasons in the league, Olajuwon led the Rockets to back-to-back championships during the Jordan Hiatus.
I guess Olajuwon didn't have any friends he could go join up with.
Stan Mikita played for the Chicago Blackhawks for 22 seasons, winning one Stanley Cup in his third year in the league.
So, for 18 seasons he contented himself with playing playoff caliber hockey. How did he live with himself?
Together from 1977 to 1995, they won a World Series in 1984 but played on more losing teams than winning ones.
Joe Sakic played his entire 20 year NHL career with the Quebec Nordiques-turned-Colorado Avalanche. He was a steadfast leader on the team as it changed players, coaches, and even cities.
When Sakic was 25 years old, the Nordiques missed the playoffs for the sixth time in seven years. Sakic came back the following year, however, and the team won its first Stanley Cup.
When the dust settled on the Bad Boys Pistons Era, Joe Dumars was the one left holding the bill.
Dumars could have left and been a vital part of another championship team (like Dennis Rodman), but instead he stayed in Detroit, missing the playoffs four times and losing in the first round four times during the remainder of his career.
Drafted first overall by the Minnesota North Stars in the 1988 draft, Modano has spent his entire career with the franchise, moving with it to Dallas in 1993 and winning a Stanley Cup in 1999.
I don't even know how Tony Gwynn managed to feed his family playing in San Diego for his whole career. These days, a hitter of Gwynn's caliber would be forced to sign with the New York Yankees at the earliest convenience just to be able to pay the bills.
I guess the weather is lovely in San Diego.
I'm sure Bruce Matthews would have loved to have hoisted the Vince Lombardi Trophy at some point during his career. As one of the premier offensive linemen in the NFL for nearly 20 years, there surely must have been a market for him with some winning team somewhere.
But Matthews danced with the girl who brung him, finally making it to the Super Bowl in his third to last season, and missing the championship by inches.
Next time someone brings up the "lack of talent" that the Cavaliers surrounded LeBron James with in Cleveland, I sure do hope Reggie Miller is within earshot so he can slug them in the face.
And yet, he stayed with the Indianapolis Pacers for 18 years, never once making the jump to a team with more talent and a better chance to win.
Alex Delvecchio played with the Red Wings for more than 20 years, winning three Stanley Cups in his first four seasons but never another.
George Brett was one of the greatest hitters of all time, and played for one of the worst franchises in baseball history. The Royals had some success early in Brett's career, and won a World Series in 1985, when he was 32 years old.
Nevertheless, the Royals missed the playoffs every year after that, and Brett never tried to move on.
John Stockton spent 19 seasons with the Utah Jazz as one of the premier point guards in NBA history. He never wavered from the Jazz, engaging in trench warfare to get them to the playoffs, then past the first round, then to the Western Conference Finals, then to consecutive NBA Finals.
Were there teams that would have been happy to have taken Stockton to the Finals? Sure.
But Stockton spent his career trying to make his team better, rather than trying to have someone else's team make him better.
The greatest professional athlete in Baltimore history, there is a chance that Ripken is the player who has meant the most to his franchise in sports history, though I am sure Jim Palmer and Brooks Robinson might beg to differ.
Ripken was born in Havre de Grace, Maryland, and went to high school in Aberdeen. He was drafted out of high school, which means that every team Ripken ever played for was a Maryland team.
And somehow, despite the fact that he won the AL Rookie of the Year and the AL Most Valuable Player Award in back-to-back seasons, and was one of the most celebrated players in baseball by the late 1980s, he never felt the need to put on a one-hour prime-time special to announce that he was leaving the only place he'd ever called home.
It's called loyalty.
Ray Bourque played for 20 seasons with the Boston Bruins, advancing to the Stanley Cup Finals only twice and never winning it. Nevertheless, he spent a long career as a celebrated Boston Bruin.
In his second to last season in hockey, he requested and received a trade from the fading Bruins to the Colorado Avalanche so that he might have one last shot at the Stanley Cup.
And in his final season, the Avalanche won the Stanley Cup.
On June 12, 2001, three days after the Cup victory, Bourque exercised his right as a player to bring the Cup back to Boston for an emotional rally in Boston's City Hall Plaza, attended by some 20,000 fans.
Dan Marino went to the Super Bowl in his second year in the NFL and lost. He would never get back, and in his 17 seasons as the most prolific passer in NFL history, he never complained and he never left the Miami Dolphins.