Now or Never: The Dilemma of Superstars

In Basketball by Jo Anne Mabika

Walking into a bar or a restraunt on the night of a big game, you can often tell right away who is there to watch the game, and who just so happened to be there to catch a meal or a drink.  The ardent sports fan in the room is usually the one yelling at the television, fanning themselves, sweating, or just fixated on the screen right up until the final buzzer or whistle.

The highs and lows of being a sports fan mean we often have to have very thick skin. Your team may go on winning streaks, but they may also go through droughts for what seems like forever.  For people who follow sports, stress is more than emotion, instead it becomes an ever present state of mind.  Fans are also generally aware that the sports world is ever-changing and between trades, free agency, and drafts, a team’s roster never stays the same for too long. If you’re lucky, you’ve never had to suffer the loss of losing one of your star players to another team.

The NBA world was once again thrown into a tidal wave when news broke that Cleveland Cavaliers star Kyrie Irving is requesting a trade from his team.  Rumors on twitter about him being tired of playing second fiddle to LeBron James have been everywhere, but this is not a new phenomenon. In the NBA, plenty of stars have left their primary teams to go elsewhere, in hopes of increasing their chances of winning a championship.  Shaquille O’Neal is remembered as one of the Laker greats, but his career spanned over five other teams outside of Los Angeles.  Right before the titles and the Kobe and Shaq drama, he was on the Orlando Magic.  James Harden, Kevin Durant, Serge Ibaka- all those players were at one point members on an eclectic Oklahoma City Thunder team that seemed so close but yet so far from championship dreams. And who can forget the Infamous King James press conference when he announced that he was abandoning the city of Cleveland and taking his talents to South Beach?

In 1992, Barry Bonds was a Pittsburgh Pirate having a marquee year.  He lead the league in walks, slugging and on-base percentage.  The following year, however, Bonds left for the Bay Area in California and struck gold having an even better year than the last.  Wayne Gretzky’s move to Los Angeles shattered the hearts of an entire nation up north, but revitalized a team that was in need of new leadership.  From Joe Montana, to Drew Brees and even Brett Farve, plenty of superstars have left their teams for one reason or another.

So what are the costs and the benefits? As fans, we often only see one side of a situation.  Beyond the jersey burning and the hate tweets, the decision for an athlete to leave  his or her city usually does not come without many sleepless nights.  For athletes, the pinnacle of success is winning as many games as possible, attaining as many championship titles as one possibly can.  So why not do everything in your power to achieve that goal?

On one side, staying on one team for the long run does show loyalty, and that loyalty tends to breed respect from the fans.  Seasons change and rosters change but the superstars who stay on their team tend to become household names within their respective city.  Tim Duncan, for example, is someone who entire families in San Antonio adore.  When the fans know they can count on you, everyone wins.  The franchise tends to pay you first, merchandise sales go up, and even when bad games happen the fans are more understanding and less likely to point the finger at that player.

On the other hand, you need great players to win championships and sometimes there are situations where you have one superstar on his own surrounded by lesser teammates.  He may love the city and the fans, he may even be okay with mediocre talent surrounding him, but for how long?  History remembers the “greats” by the titles they won and this is one of the main reasons athletes end up leaving teams. Hope. Without that hope, motivation wavers. The hope that next year your team will be closer to potentially winning it all does make a difference and when players no longer have that hope, things can get complicated.  Athletes who have left for greener pastures often cite financial benefits, greater ability to support their families, greater opportunity to shine as a player, and more hope to wining a title.

Rumors of Cristiano Ronaldo leaving his team or LeBron James walking away from the Eastern conference may or may not be true, but it’s important that we as fans remember that there are more lives involved.  It hurts to lose a beloved player but it’s an inevitable part of the roller coaster ride that is sports team building.  The wins aren’t as sweet if you don’t feel the losses and the losses stop happening when sacrifice occurs.  If you’re lucky, another amazing player is bound to land in your city again, sooner rather than later!