In the weeks following LeBron James’ “decision” there’s been everything from burned jerseys in Cleveland and celebrations in Miami to comments from personalities like Steve Carell and Rev. Jesse Jackson. With James’ announcement that he would be joining fellow all-stars Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh of the Miami Heat, a super team that many thought was not possible going into this offseason has emerged. But more interesting than how this new lineup will fare next season are the recent repercussions of these signings and how they reflect public opinion on loyalty and competition.
Although professional sports is certainly a business, loyalty to one’s team is often considered a higher virtue than making more money, and sometimes even winning. Many Hall-of-Famers of the past are acclaimed for playing with a single franchise for their entire career—a rarity in today’s sports. Although team allegiance is still valued, as the rules that govern contracts and free agency have become more flexible it has become more common for players to switch teams frequently, with some players playing for over 10 teams over the course of a career. From this situation a fundamental problem arises: While it is in the fans’ best interests for talented players to stay (to increase the likelihood of home court championships), it is often in players’ best interests to sign large contracts elsewhere (to increase their salary).
Although this example may seem to be relevant only to the world of sports, the same problem occurs in academia and business as well. That same reversal of allegiances creates sour feelings when a hotshot professor takes a position at a different school, abandoning the community that called that professor theirs. Similarly, in the corporate world, while moving from city to city used to be only for the highest class, it is no longer uncommon for employees of a wide range of fields to switch companies and cities. As travel and relocation become more commonplace and accessible, loyalty may be on the way out.
Although many of the verbal and symbolic attacks on LeBron James were due to the Ohio native’s departure from his original town and birthplace, a large portion of the vitriolic comments stem from another reason. With two-time defending most valuable player James joining the Heat, he has become the centerpiece of a line-up that many have deemed unfairly good. Vegas odds are already set at 7-6 with the Heat as the favorites to win the championship next year and comparisons with the 1927 Yankees and other immortal teams have become common. Is that a problem?
In the history of team sports in this country those that are remembered the best are the ones that have achieved more success than any others, like the Boston Celtics of the 1960s and the Pittsburgh Steelers of the 1970s. Similarly, in individual sports the most prized athletes are those that have dominated their sport, from Roger Federer in tennis to Usain Bolt in track and field. Although on the surface this backlash may seem like incredible teams are hated, in reality those are the teams we often come to love the most—rare teams in which great players create unmatched teamwork and success.
This concept in sports is again mirrored in the rest of society; the most renowned institutions are those that bring together greatness with greatness, and our favorite movies are often those that combine all of the greatest actors at the time. While for now most everyone outside of Miami is taking aim at this new super team, over time that hatred may shift to respect and reverence. The aftermath of LeBron James’s choice certainly brought to attention our understanding of loyalty and competition, and while it may be hard to check how it has progressed since then, we may just get that chance if he ever decides its time for another “decision.”
Marcel E. Moran ’11, a former Crimson associate editorial editor, is a human evolutionary biology concentrator in Eliot House.
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