Throughout the years, basketball has always been a competitive sport. Better yet, NBA basketball has always been competitive not just in game situations, but even more so between the players. Not too often did you see arch-enemies join forces just to win a championship.
At only 23 years old, even I remember a time when loyalty meant something. Staying on the same team that drafted you, unless that team decided to part ways was the unwritten code for superstars. That’s not the case anymore. Only a handful of superstars in the 2010s decide to stay on the same team for the entire length of their career, players like Tim Duncan, Kobe Bryant (that just retired) and Dirk Nowitzki. Those are three players drafted two decades ago that remained on the same team through the duration of their career.
All three of which hold very decorated legacies. Legacies that were built. No matter the situation, through all the drama and rumors surrounding pending contracts just like today, they stayed loyal to the team they were on and did their best to make that team better. The cities these three guys play(ed) for meant more to them than a bigger contract in a lot of cases. Money was important, but the organizations and cities trumped that. When their teams had ‘down’ years, they took the blame 100 percent and returned the next season with a chip on their shoulder, while stepping on the court with the same team as the previous year.
There was a sense of accountability.
Growing up playing AAU basketball for eight years of my basketball career, I saw first-hand where loyalty wasn’t the priority. I remember having teammates that played on my team one weekend and a rival team the next weekend just to get as much exposure as possible. And although I’m not shaming them for trying to market their name to play at the next level, I do believe that the trend turned into habits, that have steadily turned into an overall mindset in society and especially in the basketball community.
Within the past five or six years, headlined by the infamous decision Lebron James decided to make by ‘taking his talents to South Beach,’ things have changed. Although players did the same thing before he did, that was the most obvious attempt for an easy road to a championship. The term of a ‘super team’ was born and although there are other examples of this throughout history, it’s much more prevalent now. Kevin Durant is the latest example of an NBA superstar in his prime, switching to another team in an obvious chase to an easy championship.
It’s all fueled by this theory that ‘you can’t be great until you win a ring, or two, or three.’ If you believe in that theory, how do you feel about Elgin Baylor, Karl Malone, Charles Barkley, John Stockton, Patrick Ewing, Domonique Wilkins, Reggie Miller and Pistol Pete Maravich? Are they not some of the NBA’s greats? Yes, it’s always a great reflection on careers when a superstar leads a team to a championship but at the same time, it shines just as brightly when you consistently average elite numbers and play in multiple All-Star games, while displaying your loyalty to a franchise that took a million-dollar chance on you and your potential.
This isn’t something you can compare to an average occupation. Sports are more competitive, that’s the nature and foundation they are built on. So the statement that ‘the NBA is a business’ should run hand-in-hand with loyalty.
The lack of that mindset just proves that dollar signs, material things (rings), reputation (what other people think about you) and playing with your buddies just like the old days mean more in 2016 than being loyal.