I wanted to write about what Shaq brings to the Boston Celtics. I was going to point out how he fits with the veteran element of the team and brings more depth to a platoon of post players in Boston. But a different thought came to mind. A thought that has almost nothing to do with this upcoming season for the Celtics, but more to do with LeBron James and the Miami Heat.
We have crucified the league's Chosen One for abandoning a franchise in the prime of his own career. This is not what MJ would have done. This is not what Magic would have done. But the truth is, there are great players who give their loyalty to their own pursuit of a championship, regardless of what franchise they help bring glory to. Shaq has made a career of leaving his team in the dust to join other superstar's championship-caliber teams.
So why is it that Shaq is one of the most beloved players in recent memory of the NBA? Meanwhile LeBron has been treated like a villain for his decision to leave Cleveland and join Dwayne Wade's pursuit of a championship...the same thing Shaq once did after leaving LA and the Lakers. Honestly, Shaq never showed much loyalty to the organization that payed his checks. Boston is the sixth team of his career and almost all of his previous business relationships have ended in disaster for his former team.
Shaq has ripped former teams and team management in the media in many cases. I can't seem to remember any instances of him apologizing for leaving or the media demanding one.
As sports fans, it can be easy to forget that, at the end of the day, this is a business and it is a billion dollar business at that. We want to believe that the players we cheer for are just as loyal and passionate as we are about our favorite team. But the truth is these players are looking out for themselves first, and that means making decisions that might upset the fans.
It is an evil that must be endured to enjoy the sport. This does not mean my opinion on LeBron's decision has changed, but I do understand that he feels he owes nothing to Cleveland or the organization. In some ways, he is smart to think this way. Many people would argue that the organization is going to do what it takes to win and not what is best for their employees so why should a player owe anything to them?
At the same time, LeBron is the type of player that they build statues of outside of the arena. Of course that's not happening now. Left in the wake of LeBron's journey to South Beach are the fans that dreamed of the kid from right there in Ohio to bring them what they have waited so long for: a championship.
Did he owe them anything? No, but that's not why people burned his jersey in the streets of Ohio. They thought he was one of them. They believed he was The Chosen One, born and raised in Akron.
Between the Celtics and Heat are eight of the biggest names in basketball. At least five are sure Hall of Famers. Love it or hate it, but it is the product of free agency and a culture in basketball where winning has become everything. We all know that you play the game to win championships, but a true champion can maintain his loyalty and integrity while doing it.
Miami will open up the NBA regular season against Boston, creating a match-up of super teams. It will be a display of what sports have become today. The NBA appears to be thriving in the aspects of fan interest and financial revenue, but between free agent summits, superstar trade demands, and referee scandals, the league, in reality, may be more like the WWE. At least Ron Artest is no longer starting arena-wide brawls that include metal folding chairs.
In the modern NBA, the biggest stars seem to only care about their public image and Hall of Fame reputation. But, it may only seem that way because the league's scoring champion appears to be satisfied keeping his talent under the radar in Oklahoma City.