Baffoe: LeBron, Loyalty And Reality
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By Tim Baffoe-
(CBS) Bitcoin is launching a national sports site and is amassing a writing staff. A ton of money is being poured into it along with some pretty big names who require a ton of money. Out of respect to them and their not-as-of-yet dry ink on their new deals, I won’t name the new writers, but let’s just say there’s at least one Pulitzer winner, a talking head you’re probably used to seeing on a cable sports talk show on weekday afternoons and a really intelligent superstar athlete who hasn’t announced his retirement from playing but soon will.
Oh, and me.
Bitsports, as I’m told the new place will go by, is very green and has a lot of green. It’s a huge opportunity for me financially and creatively, and after some thought, I will be devoting all my available writing time to them. I am eternally grateful to CBS and The Score for the opportunities I’ve been given here. Without them, I am nothing writing-wise. But things change, and while there’s a sense that I’m abandoning a site here in Chicago that I’ve watched grow into something fantastic and have been lucky to be a part of, not accepting the gig at Bitsports and not using my legal right to walk away from CBS would only be a retardant to my personal goals. I thank all those behind the scenes at 670TheScore.com and fellow columnists and reporters past and present, and I thank you readers for showing up and tolerating me. I hope you continue do so both here and where I’m going.
OK, none of that is true whatsoever.
If there were Bitcoin Sports with gobs of cash or if I received a call from any other place willing to improve my professional situation, you best believe those above paragraphs become a reality. I am beyond appreciative for what I have here — jeez, I won a freakin’ contest to have a place here that thousands of aspiring college writers, freelancers and unemployed scribes have worked really hard for. I’m #blessed — but offer me better and I’m gone.
And in a situation that’s (totally) like the basketball equivalent to being the hot sports blogger willing to win a new site the sports blogging championship of the world, LeBron James can have all the warm and fuzzies for Miami. What he isn’t required to have for that city or the Heat is loyalty over personal benefit.
Not a single (intelligent) one of us is loyal to our employers if a raise or better situation is presented elsewhere. James owes Miami nothing. Just as he didn’t owe Cleveland a thing other than what he really owed all of us, which was a way better approach to helping himself four years ago than The Decision. Yes, that was a PR disaster fueled by some awful advice and made me really dislike the man for a while. I’ve been able to let that go, though, because I realize that James realizes his mistake, regrets it, has never given anyone much of a reason to dislike him off the court and shouldn’t have hot takes on his legacy tied to it.
The residual effect of The Decision (besides me buying three shirts like LeBron wore that night) was that it riled up “loyalists,” fools with the antiquated Tennessee Ernie Ford garbage idea of an athlete owing his employer something besides a best effort for which he or she is currently being compensated. It allowed James to be the convenient villain so many fans desire because it’s easier than critical thinking. To some, James will unfairly forever be the guy who flaked on Cleveland (and now shouldn’t do the same to Miami or something). This is epitomized by a new lame and sort of not exactly accurate billboard appealing to the basest in San Antonio.
This is the thinking of the fan and writer who makes sure to note the feelgood of a great like the late Tony Gwynn and his individual stats eschewing brighter lights and bigger paychecks elsewhere and playing his entire career with one team while also omitting Gwynn’s career involved zero championships. As did Karl Malone’s, even after he chased one at age 40 elsewhere from his loyalty to Utah. And then it’s being a hypocrite and criticizing the villain when his team loses and touting hilarious memes about individuals, not teams.
James, like all athletes, has two jobs — to do whatever he can to help his employer win the next title and to do so while ensuring he has maximized his individual situation to his liking. If that means not taking the most money that one team will offer in favor of less cash from a better or familiar team, that’s on him. Walking away from more than $20 million in Miami for 2014-’15 is about more than that specific cash. It’s about his right to use the opt-out clause that was collectively bargained. It’s about what the Heat can show him they will do to be the favorite to win the East. It’s that the Bulls and Rockets might be better situations after they do some salary cap Jenga. It’s that who the hell are you to tell Lebron what he’s obligated to do?
“Team and the no-I-in-it” is cozy narrative. The player is the reality. If that weren’t true, most owners wouldn’t love salary caps so much. That $50 million a year is less than James’ actual worth as the single most dominant player in the game is the reality. That there isn’t much criticism of Kevin Love for being “disloyal” to Minnesota is a peculiar reality.
If you believe there can’t be a price put on loyalty, fine. But I bet you feel the same about prices on titles. Some bitterly said James would never win a championship in Miami. He did. Twice. He will win another title(s) that will make other people lots of money. Because that’s the reality of LeBron.
Now who owes whom?
You can follow Tim on Twitter @TimBaffoe.