Free agency has destroyed sports for the fans. Remember the good old days when a team pretty much owned a player outright? I guess it's nice that Curt Flood and Catfish Hunter broke through the unfair contracts in baseball, but we're not talking about coal miners who work in incredibly dangerous conditions for criminal wages, we're talking about spoiled athletes who were lucky enough to be blessed with a unique (but otherwise useless) talent, and play a game for a living. They're not teachers, or scientists, or cops, or any of the people who actually contribute to society.
And that brings us to 2010 and the all too typical case of LeBron James. Here's a kid from Ohio who grew up to see all his dreams come true. He's the best player in the NBA, and he plays for his hometown team. What could be better? Well, I guess the lure of South Beach could be better. If LeBron had stayed in Cleveland, he probably would have won a championship eventually, but more importantly, he could have become one of those rare modern athletes who plays his whole career for one team. And his hometown team to boot! Now that's a legacy! But instead, LeBron chose to make it all about him. As if winning a championship would legitimize that he is a great basketball player? He chose to break the hearts of all the fans in his home state. For what? A little more money? He already has more money than God. All his real money comes from endorsements, so it doesn't matter where he plays. He chose to go play second fiddle to Dwayne Wade, because if the Heat do win a championship, it will always be Wade's team. He chose glamorous Miami over hard working Cleveland crying all the way that no NBA players wanted to play there. I guess LeBron isn't such a draw for his peers after all. Since apparently winning a championship is everything, I guess all those players were casting a vote of no confidence in LeBron's ability to ever win a title. Maybe "King James'" head has gotten too swollen for the crown to ever fit. How can he stand at that press conference and say with a straight face that "Miami has a welcoming organization, and it's all about family for me?" Ask a kid in Akron if he believes that. What a self-centered hypocrite.
The sad truth is that it would have been more shocking if LeBron had stayed in Cleveland. These days all that matters is money, media attention, and merchandising. Tell that to all the broken hearted Cav fans as they look at the millions of dusty #23 jerseys in their closets years from now. I hope they have a big bonfire and burn 'em all. Hasn't Cleveland suffered enough? They were already the victims of one of the most heartless betrayals in sports history when Art Moddell moved the Browns to Baltimore because the Cleveland taxpayers wouldn't cough up $100 million to build him a new stadium. All they ever did was sell out every home game and rabidly cheer for one of the worst franchise's in football. Is there no decency and loyalty left in sports?
My favorite modern sports moment came when the Patriots chose to be announced as a team before the Super Bowl. It was a small gesture that still gives me goosebumps to this day. And this year, Joe Mauer could have left the Twins and played anywhere else for a boatload of money. Instead, he chose to re-sign with his hometown Twins, and continue his path to the Hall of Fame proudly wearing a Minnesota jersey. I love the Twins not only because I'm loyal to my state, but because they are the scrappy underdogs, who make the playoffs even though they are a small market team with a minuscule payroll. They are the antithesis to teams like the Yankees and Red Sox who just throw money at championships. The Twins succeed because of good coaching, team play, and a solid farm system. That is a rarity in these days.
I hope Lebron goes on to great unsuccesses. I hope he never gets his championship. I hope the Miami fans eventually feel as cheated as the Cleveland fans. As much of a sports fan as I am, I realize that it's just a business, and things like loyalty and pride are outdated notions.
I guess Jerry Seinfeld was right: we're just rooting for a bunch of laundry.