Just over seven years ago NBA superstar LeBron James shocked the basketball world on his ESPN special, The Decision, with the now-famous words “I’m going to take my talents to South Beach and join the Miami Heat”. What followed was chaos in both Miami and Cleveland. Celebrations took over Miami, while in Cleveland people burned their beloved LeBron James jerseys and took to social media to express their anger at James for leaving the Cleveland Cavaliers, a move they viewed as disloyal and betrayal. The Decision seems like ages ago, and a lot has happened in the NBA and other professional sports leagues. Most notably, Kevin Durant signing with the Golden State Warriors, Kyrie Irving asking to be traded to the Boston Celtics, Gordon Hayward signing with the Boston Celtics, and the Boston Celtics trading away Isaiah Thomas.
The question is, to what degree should we expect professional athletes and sports teams to be loyal? On one hand, professional sports is an industry, but on the other hand, it is so much more than that. To fans, their team and its players, are like a second family. In the eyes of Oklahoma City Thunder fans, Kevin Durant was their leader. He made the move from Seattle to Oklahoma City with the team in 2008, and was the franchise’s only MVP. Kevin Durant was all that Thunder fans could want in a player. Then in early July of 2016, Oklahoma City fans worlds were turned upside down when Durant signed with the Golden State Warriors, the team that knocked the Thunder out of the playoffs in 2016 and the NBA Runner-Ups. Next came Thunder fans burning their Durant jerseys in the streets, and a very sudden, but strong hatred for him. Durant, however, was doing what he thought was best for him and his career. He believed that he had a better chance at winning his first NBA title with the Warriors than he did with the Thunder. Who are we, as fans, who claim to love these players so much when they are on our team, to criticize those players for doing what they feel is in their best interest?
If a man, wanting to become a head chef, quits his current job to work at another restaurant that he feels gives him better opportunities, no one thinks twice about it. Most people would even support it. As fans, I believe that if we claim to love players on our team, we should support those same players if they decide to move on to do what they think is better for them. I understand that it is always more fun to support a winning team, but it can also be fun to watch a team rebuild and try to become a winning team.
I grew up as a Chicago Cubs fan. Although we were not the winningest team in the MLB, it was always a ton of fun to cheer on the team, go to games and hope that by some miracle the Cubs would somehow pull of the upset of all upsets and win the World Series. I never hated players for leaving the team. For example when Dexter Fowler signed with the St. Louis Cardinals, the Cubs biggest rivals, after being a contributing player on the Cubs World Series Championship team in 2016, I accepted it and just started cheering on the “new” Chicago Cubs team, rather than being upset at Fowler. After 17 years of cheering on the ‘lovable losers’, and many more years for many other people, I was finally able to watch the Chicago Cubs win the World Series in 2016. What made it so special was the fact that I had loved the team my entire life, and I understood that players would come and go but the Chicago Cubs would always be there, no matter who played for them or how many games they won. Fans should look at their team’s players as a part of the team that they have the privilege of watching instead of believing that they have the right to watch them and that those players should be there for their entire careers. As fans we must remember that at the end of the day it is a business. If we remember this then I believe sports would be a much more enjoyable, exciting pastime in America.