It appears that almost everyday, a different NBA superstar is having his jersey tarnished by an angry group of disappointed and disgusted fans. LeBron James made the infamous “decision” in 2010 to join the Miami Heat, Kevin Durant completed his controversial move to the Golden State Warriors in 2016 and, most recently, Kyrie Irving demanded a trade out of Cleveland this past summer.
As devoted and passionate fans, it is easy to question the moral integrity of these players because we feel so emotionally invested in our favorite teams. But the fact of the matter is that the NBA is first and foremost a business. Although it is our first instinct to lash out with personal attacks on these players, we need to recognize as fans that it is impossible to understand the factors that prompt players to “betray” their teams.
Of course, owners can love the game of basketball, but the primary reason they invest their money into an organization is to earn a return on their investment. Players can display their loyalty and commitment to an organization as much as they want, but when it comes down to it, those in charge do not care what anyone’s name is or what they’ve done for their team.
Isaiah Thomas was the feisty underdog who embodied the Boston Celtics’ gritty roster that took a surprising first seed in the Eastern Conference last year. The 5-foot-9 all-star led Boston to the Eastern Conference Finals, all while battling through the severe emotional stress of losing his younger sister in a car accident. And how was Thomas rewarded for this extreme devotion to his team and fanbase? He was traded to Cleveland less than three months after the conclusion of the finals in June.
Thomas exemplified loyalty, and yet the Celtics still felt no wrong in blindsiding him with a trade. If the higher-ups of these teams exhibit such little respect toward their players, then the players have no reason to stay faithful to them.
Jahlil Okafor, who just a few years ago was propped up as the future of the Philadelphia 76ers, has played in just two of Philly’s 13 games this season (excluding Wednesday night’s game against the Los Angeles Lakers). The 76ers refused to even buy out the final year of Okafor’s contract, which would allow him to test free agency. Instead, the young athlete’s talents are rotting away at the end of the bench. What executives and general managers say one day may change the next. There should be no expectation for players to look after anyone but themselves.
Basketball players are entertainers, and unlike musicians or actors who can work into their 70s, the window of opportunity for an NBA player is extremely limited. The average NBA career is only 4.8 years, according to Business Insider, so these professional players have limited time to make an impact. As seen with Okafor, it is possible for a once-promising career to come to a halt at any given moment. While the Duke alumnus’ journey in the NBA may not be complete, Okafor certainly has a smaller chance of succeeding than he had in the past.
If a lawyer leaves their old law firm to accept a higher-paying job, then they would most likely be commended for striving to support their family, not shamed for leaving their old job. Even though NBA players do hold ties to large fan bases, the connection lies in two professionals trying to better their lives. When an NBA player leaves his beloved city, it is not to spite the fans — it’s a personal decision. Durant certainly still has love for Oklahoma City, but he felt that the Warriors provided him with a better opportunity to win. He’s now an NBA champion.
Immediately after a player abandons his team, it is understandable that a die-hard fan would feel compelled to light his jersey on fire, or worse. But the next time a star departs for a new destination, take some time to consider the situation from the athlete’s perspective.
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