Over the past several years, loyalty has emerged as a hot topic throughout the sports world.
It all began with LeBron James’s “Decision” in 2010. When he defected from his hometown Cleveland Cavaliers to the Miami Heat, he thrust himself squarely into the role of the NBA’s first supervillain.
Cleveland fans burned his jersey, the vast majority of sports fans came to detest him and Cavaliers’ owner Dan Gilbert wrote an incredibly dramatic letter calling James “disloyal” and “narcissistic”. But perhaps his strongest line was this; “You [the fans] simply don’t deserve this kind of cowardly betrayal.”
Then, four years later, LeBron came home. He’s already brought Cleveland one championship and I wouldn’t bet against him winning another.
Yet, there are still basketball fans who loathe LeBron, often citing his disloyalty as justification.
There’ve been many other cases like LeBron’s across sports, where a player leaves their longtime team to seek either money or a championship. In many cases, these players are shunned by their former fans.
However, when a team trades away a player we almost never criticize the ownership for being “disloyal” or “cowardly”.
Take Isaiah Thomas as an example. He played a game two days after his sister died in a car accident. He had a tooth knocked out in the early stages of a game and continued to play through the pain. He even played with a torn hip labrum from the end of the regular season through the entire playoffs last year.
Yet, the Celtics traded him this offseason, with almost no regard for him. The Celtics valued him only as an asset, even though he had essentially become the face of the franchise.
There’s no outrage at the Celtics’ front office, no burning of their GM’s picture, no spiteful letter from Isaiah (he actually wrote a fantastic piece thanking Boston for his time there).
It seems that everyone has accepted the trade as just part of the business. In fact, it’s rare that people get upset with a team for a trade.
So why’s loyalty such a one-way street in sports?
I think it boils down to the fact that we are a capitalist society. We expect results, and we expect them right away.
This concept is exacerbated by the fact that most sports team owners are wealthy, successful business people that bring their business background into the sports arena.
In a perfect world, perhaps the loyalty could go both ways. Players would play out their careers with the team that drafted them, and management wouldn’t trade them unless their play was detrimental to the team.
But sadly, a perfect world doesn’t exist. And in a sports world that is becoming increasingly centered around free agency, teams aren’t incentivized to put loyalty anywhere near the top of their priority list.
So, perhaps neither should players. Perhaps they should simply be concerned about their own well-being and success.
And as for the fans, though betrayal between teams and players is often tough to swallow, it’s inevitable in the current sports world we live in.
Perhaps we should all stop complaining and instead sit back and appreciate the drama.
Tyler Dean is a junior studying business administration.