Winning’s OK, but not at all costs
First off, let’s be clear about one thing: It’s very easy for us to criticize.
We sports fans continually berate professional athletes for taking the best possible deal made available to them unless that deal is being offered by a team we really like. Then all insults are off.
We tend to be less harsh with collegiate athletes because the money they receive under the table pales in comparison to what pro jocks earn and doesn’t cause the price of game tickets to jump too dramatically. If an athlete’s free ride ultimately results in higher tuition for our own kids, though, we get angered.
Ticking us off the most is the fact that our offspring weren’t blessed with the ability to throw a touchdown pass while getting blitzed or sky over defenders for a slam dunk. Sure, they’re intelligent enough to pass physics and calculus classes, but if they were talented athletes someone else would be sitting in class taking tests for them so they could be freed up to attend practice.
So who really are the smart ones? But that’s not the point I want to raise here.
The subject being broached is the dollar chasing done by free agents in every professional league. The NBA has drawn the most attention of late primarily because its marquee performer, LeBron James, opted to return to Cleveland after a four-year stay in Miami.
Some people have speculated that if the Heat had three-peated, James would have re-upped with them. But since San Antonio claimed the 2014 championship and made Miami look completely overmatched in the process, James had less reason to stick around.
At first most folks living outside Florida praised James for not taking the maximum money he could have gotten from the Heat and instead heading back to his home state. But since then the Cavaliers have gotten serious in their courting of Minnesota forward Kevin Love, which has caused detractors to re-emerge to denigrate James for seeking to create another “super team.”
Why? Does LeBron really deserve to be castigated for wanting to maximize his chances of grabbing another title? I mean, isn’t that what fans keep saying we want athletes to do — place winning above their wallets?
Granted, this concept of packing clubs with as much big-name talent as possible is getting rather old. No, guys like Michael Jordan, Larry Bird and Magic Johnson didn’t win championships as solo acts, but they also didn’t have a mad desire to team up — defeating each other to gain a title was a huge source of motivation.
But the current situation probably isn’t going to change anytime soon unless the super teams endure a prolonged dry spell and championships become scarcer than truthful statements on Capitol Hill. So it’s not worth discussing at length.
And, really, James rates as something of a rare creature. Except for forward Pau Gasol abandoning the Los Angeles Lakers to join the Bulls, the biggest names did not follow LeBron’s lead by leaving.
Foremost among the staying-put group was New York Knicks forward Carmelo Anthony, who re-signed for max money after doing a brief around-the-NBA tour that included stops in Chicago, Texas and L.A. Again, that was certainly his prerogative to remain in the Big Apple, but couldn’t Carmelo at least have come clean and admitted the real reason why?
He claimed when he declared his free agency that winning was of the utmost importance to him, which, of course, is why he didn’t leave the Knicks, who were so impressive as spectators to this spring’s playoffs. I know new general manager Phil Jackson is a reputed genius, but he’s also never attempted to win championships with a franchise that was absent an all-time great.
And to paraphrase the dig once thrown Dan Quayle’s way by Lloyd Bentsen at a vice presidential debate: Mr. Anthony, you are no Kobe Bryant.
So the Knicks’ hopes of ending a championship-less drought that is into its fourth decade are slim — meaning Anthony was all about the money. Come on, fess up to it already and let's move on.
Now would any of us, if given the chance, have been any less mercenary than Anthony and left millions of dollars on the table, as he would have done by signing with a team other than the Knicks? Of course not, although we’re thinking in down-to-earth terms not Monopolistic ones.
The only way most of the population will ever see millions of dollars is by playing that venerable board game for days at a time or printing our own currency, the latter of which is generally frowned upon as a pastime by the friendly folks at the U.S. Treasury. So fully comprehending the difference between $95 million and $125 million is difficult for the majority of us to fathom.
Either way, those kinds of numbers can buy a whole lot of stuff, including things that have wings and require pilots. And assuredly that’s a far cry from having $15,000 represent a make-or-break deal in a person’s life.
But the bottom line is that it’s almost always about the bottom line.
I suppose we should draw a certain amount of comfort in knowing that so many of our favorite sports heroes don’t possess a win-at-all-costs mentality. It’s a rather ugly trait, to be honest, and not something I’d want my children to emulate.
Far better that they understand a much simpler concept: only making the most dollars ever makes sense.