James Jump to Miami is Yet Another Example of No Loyalty in Sports

By Chris Murray
For the Chris Murray Report
and The Sunday Sun
I hadn’t intended to weigh in on the whole nationally-televised hype regarding LeBron James free agent choice, but seeing and hearing all the reaction regarding James’ choice of the Miami Heat as his new team and how he spurned the Cleveland Cavaliers, all I have to say is the hypocrisy on both sides of the fence is utterly fascinating.
While all of Cleveland is decrying James’ lack of loyalty to the city and the Cavaliers, his jumping ship to the Miami Heat for what presumably is a bigger and better deal is par for the course in a world where big business and people with money can operate with impunity if the price is right.
If you thought James announcing his “divorce” from Cleveland before a nationally-televised audience on ESPN was bizarre, the bitter response from Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert was simply over the top. He referred to James act of spurning the Cavaliers as “cowardly betrayal.”
“The self-declared former ‘King’ will be taking the ‘curse’ with him down south,” Gilbert wrote on the team’s website. “And until he does ‘right’ by Cleveland and Ohio, James [and the town where he plays] will unfortunately own this dreaded spell and bad karma.”
C’mon, Mr. Gilbert tell us how you really feel, dude.
The words ‘loyalty’ and ‘betrayal’ have been used in all the media to attack James for his much ballyhooed move to Miami. On one level, you can understand the outrage on the part of fans in Cleveland because, in the last 25 years, they’re hearts have been ripped apart by their sports teams, whether you’re talking about losing three times to the Broncos in the AFC Championship in the 1980s or Art Modell moving the Browns to Baltimore.
Following all of the back and forth stuff in this drama confirms for me one thing that we all have to remember even as we enjoy our favorite players scoring those touchdowns and hitting all the big baskets is that words like ‘loyalty’ and  ‘virtue’  really mean nothing in the world of the sports. Like everything else in American capitalism, it is about money and accolades (which, in sports, leads to even more money). Just ask the myriad of American corporations that have shipped American jobs to Third World countries in order to make more money.
What the millionaire athlete James did is no different than what billionaire owners of sports teams and what most corporations have been doing over the last 30 years; he moved himself to a location where he can further maximize his earning potential and his chance to win a championship.
The last thirty years has seen an vast increase in the movement of sports franchises to new cities where local politicians give them all sorts of sweetheart incentives; we’ve also witnessed the increasing mobility of free agent athletes who jump from small markets to places like New York for the big bucks. This is the game, yo–haven’t we figured it out, yet?

Expecting the players or the owners to be loyal to the communities they play in belies the intractable reality that money and the opportunity to make a few extra bucks trumps both nobility and whatever morality there is in sports.   In fact, those of us who work nine to five will pull up stakes in one town to move to another in a hot minute if we saw an opportunity to increase our paychecks.

For as much Gilbert lambasted James for dropping his team like yesterday’s garbage, how many times has the Cavaliers owner made decisions to benefit the profitability of the franchise at the expense of loyalty? Was Gilbert loyal to former head coach Mike Brown or former general manager Danny Ferry, the tow men most responsible for Cleveland’s success  during James tenure there?
Gilbert thought getting rid of those guys for new management was a better deal for his team and his best chance to put a winner on the floor–and loyalty had nothing to do with it.
And so James allegiance wasn’t to the city of Cleveland or its NBA franchise, but to position himself to win that elusive NBA title. To make you feel better and to let you know it’s not all about dollars and cents, James will even tell you that he’s taking less money to join forces with Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh. In the end, the bigger and better deal prevailed over any notion of loyalty to the city or his fans.
What always bothers me, though, is that fans and the media like to blame the players for spurning their communities. Owners like Gilbert decried James lack of loyalty to the team. But when the owners are finished using up the best years of a player’s brief lifespan, that allegiance unceremoniously disappears.
In Philadelphia in 2008, fans were outraged that former free safety Brian Dawkins wasn’t re-signed by the team even though he made the Pro Bowl in his final year in an Eagles uniform and had been active in the community throughout his career. Back in 1973, Baltimore Colts great Johnny Unitas wasn’t allowed to finish out his career with his team, which angered fans in Baltimore. Again, it was about business.
While we like to attach ourselves to our favorite ball players and teams, it is important to remember that they are ultimately governed by the cold dictates of the marketplace or their own selfish quest for a championship. Players will jump teams for money and the possibility of winning that ring. Owners will move a team to another city if it lines his pockets with more money or get a rid of a longtime player when his usefulness is up.
It’s not about any abstract allegiance to a city, a team or an individual player, it’s about loyalty to the players or owners own self interest and ability to earn as much money as possible. After all, it’s the American way.

3 thoughts on “James Jump to Miami is Yet Another Example of No Loyalty in Sports

  1. I like your perspective on this. News about Lebron James has felt like this week’s heatwave, I’ve been unable to escape it. If you were to ask me a month ago who Lebron James was I would have been like, “Who?” I mean, really I’ve never seen him play. I don’t follow sports. I don’t care. I’m a performing artist. I’ve watched some of the World Cup but that’s about it. Yet I found myself talking to my husband, also an artist who doesn’t know or care about sports at all, about my disgust over James’ actions. You see even an outsider like me can get all righteous all of sudden. It’s so easy for us to look at this situation and say things like, “I would never do that, ask for all that money! Never..” and “How dare he…” but we never see the larger picture. The wheeling and dealing that goes on behind our backs. As you say Chris, “We are all governed by the cold dictates of the marketplace…” James is just doing whatever any red-blooded American would do or maybe should do. Why be loyal? I remember when the local teams and Stadiums were given names that reflected some aspect or history of the town. But at any given moment the teams owners could sneak a team out of town in the middle of the night and end up in Indianpolis!! Oops that slipped out. Nobody’s still bitter about that. And the stadiums are no longer name after some local dude who done good or the team even.Now they have names like “Citifield” and “The Staples Center” Ewww! We have no say about any of this. It’s the corporate world that seems to have their hands in everything so what’s the point of being loyal? And then on an even broader picture what’s happening to us average folks? Getting laid off left and right after 16 years of service? 25 years loyalty to a company you coulda left but didn’t because “they’ve been good to me?” and “I’ve got a pension”. And bang out of the blue you get a pink slip? But unfortunately we all can’t be like Lebron James. Decide to be disloyal and go someplace else to make millions and millions of dollars just to play basketball. Not to belittle the sport but it’s just a game people. I wish some the laid-off teachers in my community could hold press conferences and decide where the want to teach and leak to the press how much that other school in Miami is offering….but I digress…

  2. My man…

    James’ decision has relatively little to do with sports. It’s about business. Big business. A large part of Dan Gilbert’s reaction is about business — or the projected loss thereof, now that his headline attraction has left. I’d be pissed off too if I had invested millions of dollars in developing an enterprise, only to see it walk out the door.

    Fans, OTOH, have a different relationship with local celebrities, and especially athletes. It’s 100% emotional (which is kind of strange when you stop to think ‘we’ rarely know these people personally to develop such attachments). I think it’s normal, however, for fans to react with passion to the comings and goings of Mr. or Ms. Big Shot and the local team. I understand these connections as a reflection of that athlete or team’s ability to entertain their publics.

    The thing is, reasonable minds will move on from the hurt of rejection or loss. It’ll take time. James knows this. Gilbert knows. My point being such expectations aren’t purely logical, but the emotions behind them are valid and valuable.

    So… is there loyalty in sports? Sure there is. We see the loyalty in sports every time we see executives, coaches, and athletes of divergent personalities and from different perspectives come together for the purpose of winning. It’s not a blind loyalty, but one of pragmatism, efficiency, and efficacy. When you aren’t successful, you change; you adapt. You can best believe James, Gilbert, and the Cavs fans are all loyal to the goal of winning. Only now they have disagreed over whether they could do it together.

  3. This is an excellent post and I really enjoyed reading it! Cleveland fans are really unhappy that Lebron chose to go to Miami but I think they are taking this too much to heart. Lebron is a very good player that hasn’t one a championship and feels that he can win one in Miami rather than Cleveland. He doesn’t owe anything to the Cavs because for the most part he played his hardest throughout his time in Cleveland. I have never liked and never will like Lebron but I feel that all the criticism that he is getting is unfair. Also, you think you could check out my blog cuz I would love to hear your opinion on my thoughts. http://chrisross91.wordpress.com/2010/07/09/suck-it-up-cleveland/

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