Granting that this is a very non-Christians in Context topic, judging from last night's ESPN ratings, I thought that there might be a few others interested in the topic of Lebron James' signing with the Miami Heat over his hometown Cleveland Cavaliers. So I wrote this post for the sports blog my brother and I have, Brothers Who Like Sports, and figured I would pass it on to you as well. I suppose at heart is a reflection on the nature of being a sports fan, which is relevant to many of us.
Sports has a strange, even creepy hold on the emotional lives of fans. Every time a professional sports team wins or loses a championship and a city riots in response, we are reminded that thousands of people can only be classified as "adults" because of their age.
And now, as I read the emails from Cleveland fans in Bill Simmons' column today, more adults remind of that same truth.
Remember this, fans: your value in the eyes of professional sports teams at every level of the organization is exclusively found in your wallet. Even Dan Gilbert's raging anti-Lebron open letter, for all its talk of loyalty, can only be seen as a plea to get fans to the Lebron-less arena next year. The Cavs need some way to attract fans (I suspect Mo Williams and Antwan Jamison cannot do that on their own...) if they want to keep making money. So it was in Gilbert's best interest to reach out to the ire of a city full of people whose hearts are too tied to their failing sports teams and say, "We'll show him..." The subtext is obvious: "...and you can watch us show him by buying your season tickets to watch your hometown sub-.500 Cleveland Cavaliers."
Oh, I have my sports loyalties. I am a Dodger fan and I probably always will be. But if a homegrown talent ups and plays somewhere else, I will not for one second think, "How could you turn your back on Los Angeles?"
Because here is the reality: Lebron did not choose where to be born. He did not choose where to be drafted. He did not choose which players he could play with for the last 7 years (debatable, I know, but you get my point). So he doesn't owe Cleveland anything. It isn't like Cleveland had to stick with him through thick and thin. Allen Iverson went to watch him play in high school because he was already that good. No one ever doubted his abilities, so he didn't need a city's loyalty. He was going to have the loyalty of the fans in whatever city he played in. It just so happens that he was born in the city where he ended up playing.
The Cleveland Cavaliers had no right to keep Lebron James. Lebron James had no moral obligation to play for the Cleveland Cavaliers. Time to grow up folks: athletes want to win and businessmen want to make money. That's what pro sports are about.
The real problem in all of this is not with Lebron signing somewhere else. The real problem, as I mentioned yesterday, is that he went out of his way to grab an hour of prime time t.v. to do it. The right move, the non-totally-self-aggrandizing move, would have been to do what, well, every other free agent in the history of professional sports has done: go to a meeting with the general manager and your agent, sign the paper, then hold a press conference afterward. For all of the foolishness of the fans, Lebron has come off as needlessly egotistical and classless. All to promote his brand- as if that needed any more promotion.
The good that could come out of this would be for adult fans to take the lesson to heart that their heroes are in it to make money and win, not to play for fans. Realize that you are a source of income for a business and boosting for an ego. Then go and reasonably enjoy superior athleticism. Because that is all there is to being a fan.