No transaction in modern sports history has inspired as intense and passionate feelings as LeBron James’ 2010 signing with the Miami Heat did. Thanks in part to an ill-conceived television special, LeBron took fierce criticism for “betraying” the Cavaliers and abandoning his hometown team. Fans everywhere wondered how he could do such a thing and where his loyalty had gone.
In the years since The Decision, opinions have softened a bit, as more fans and media members have realized that players are entitled to make decisions that benefit their own interests, not only the interests of the teams they were assigned to through a draft process they had no control over. Still, a segment of the sports world still believes players who leave the teams that drafted them are selfish and disloyal. And LeBron is not afraid to call bullshit.
On Tuesday, LeBron was asked about the trade that sent Blake Griffin to the Pistons, just months after his former team had promised he’d be a “lifelong Clipper.” Here (in part) is how The King responded:
“When a player gets traded, it was doing what’s best for the franchise, but when a player decides to leave, it’s ‘He’s not loyal, he’s a snake, he’s not committed.’ That’s the narrative of how it goes. I know that first hand.”
It’s hard to say LeBron doesn’t have a point here. Fans demand absolute loyalty and curse any star who doesn’t offer it. But they rarely criticize teams for cutting players who are no longer contributing or trading stars when the right offer comes along. It’s as if the players owes everything to his team, while the team owes nothing to the player. In reality, every fan who once gave LeBron heat for leaving Cleveland before delivering the title he promised should be equally indignant at the Clippers for dumping Griffin after suggesting he’d spend his career in L.A.
In rationalizing particularly heartless trades, franchises, fans and analysts like to say that, “it’s a business,” and they’re right about that. But it’s not only a business for teams and leagues. It’s a business for players as well.