This year’s off season for the NBA tested the faith of fans across the nation to say the least. Chris Paul left the Los Angeles Clippers high and dry. Paul George is now joining Russell Westbrook in Oklahoma. Jimmy Butler somehow ended up with the Minnesota Timberwolves. Gordon Hayward dumped Utah like a bad habit. Carmelo Anthony is trying desperately to release himself from the cold grip that is the New York Knicks. Kyrie Irving gave the Cleveland Cavaliers front office a huge middle finger wrapped in a bow and the Boston Celtics blindsided one of their most important players in Isaiah Thomas.
Yes, what an off season it has been! Though watching our favorite players jump ship to “ring chase” never sits well, what’s still surprising is fans expecting some sort of loyalty from these athletes.
Here’s a bit of a harsh truth: these players owe you nothing. Let that sink in. And to take it a step further, to expect anything other than entertaining basketball (and sometimes not even that) is really as far as these expectations should go. Now, you’re entitled to feel any way you deem necessary when you watch your favorite players get traded or opt out of their contracts.
At the end of the day when we talk, root, watch or think about our favorite teams and players – that’s really what fuels our love for the game. But as we continue to shift toward a more brand conscious culture (and brand conscious athlete), do you really think athletes are going to stay loyal to an organization, when they have an opportunity to get something of personal interest to them?
That answer is no. Whether it’s more money, championship glory, or just the start of a new chapter, players are not factoring in loyalty when they make these decisions for themselves and their families. And frankly, fans shouldn’t expect them to. Loyalty is a two-way street. It’s something that should be reciprocal. What fans often forget is, players are faced with the reality that at any given moment someone else can determine their destiny at any given time. We all watched DeMarcus “Boogie” Cousins find out he was traded during all star weekend mid interview:
Where was the loyalty from the Sacramento Kings in that moment? The NBA is a business; front office executives are making the best decisions for their teams. If sacrificing a key player means an opportunity for growth, we’ve seen that decision executed time and time again. With that said, would you pledge your allegiance to an organization that will trade you if that meant they could get someone better? Probably not. So why expect loyalty from these athletes? In the NBA, teams are altered, shifted, rebranded and torn down just to be rebuilt again. That is the nature of the beast. Only the elite players are lucky enough to build their own narrative. We’ll never forget this:
A Cleveland jersey with the name “James” and the number “23” sprawled on the back was up in flames within minutes of LeBron’s highly controversial decision to take his “talents to South Beach.” But after a few rings, and some time had passed, interestingly enough, that hurtful goodbye became very exuberant cheers:
James got a “Welcome Home” party for the ages and fans reunited, probably re-purchased his jersey and forgave him. Fans are forgiving when it’s in their best interest too. The same way our loyalty is fickle, we can’t expect it from players who more often than not are the breadwinners for their entire family and even friends.
Simply put, there is no loyalty in the NBA. Not from executives, not from franchises, not from players and not from fans. It’s a business, and a lucrative one at that. So before you start buying lighter fluid and matches to burn your ex-favorite player’s jersey, let’s keep a few things in mind. That new move, opt-out or trade was a calculated business move that was solely made on personal gain. The same way you’d be pissed that they left, is the same way you’ll rejoice if/when they return.
Basically, think of these players as a summer fling; enjoy it while you can and move on when it’s over.