The Last Breed of Loyalty
The Last Breed of Loyalty
Loyalty is a dying art in the world of sports. Players like Kobe Bryant, Tim Duncan, and Dirk Nowitzki are the last breed of NBA stars to never “jump ship” and leave when their team is not performing up to par. The ability to remain apart of a losing team is something only the best can do; not particularly skill wise, but mentally. Players often move around the league for two reasons; to contend for a championship or for the green paper that the world revolves around.
The most notorious occurrence of a player leaving a team in the dust to contend for a championship was LeBron James’ July 8, 2010 decision to leave the Cleveland Cavaliers—the team that drafted him—to “take his talents to South Beach,” also known as the Miami Heat. James created a super team with all-stars Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh for one reason only, to win. In this case, James ditched a winning team; the 2009-10 Cleveland Cavaliers who finished the season with a strong 61-21 record which captured first place in the Eastern Conference. Why would James leave a winning team, you may ask? The disability to win where it matters most. His first stint with Cleveland ended with his team breaking through to the NBA Finals once, and getting defeated by lesser teams in the playoffs year-after-year. James’ first taste of a championship came as a member of the Miami Heat, not the Cleveland Cavaliers… go figure.
San Antonio Spurs veteran Tim Duncan—considered the greatest power forward to ever grace the court—is known for taking pay cuts so his team could re-sign essential pieces to contend for championships. The Spurs could have potentially lost Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green in 2015 if Duncan did not ink a deal for less. Duncan could have easily been greedy and signed a greater deal with a contender, but wanted to win with his team, the San Antonio Spurs. “The Big Fundamental” defined San Antonio; he built the city into a marquee NBA destination. His retirement at the end of the 2015-16 campaign marked the end of a great career. Duncan was more than just San Antonio’s most beloved son, but the NBA’s as well.
The 2015-16 season—to go with the 2016 offseason—was a very interesting one, to say the least. Not only did a couple of once-in-a-lifetime players hang em’ up, but big-name free-agents made decisions that sent the league into a frenzy. Kevin Durant, Dwyane Wade, Derrick Rose, as well as Dwight Howard, Pau Gasol, Joakim Noah, and Rajon Rondo are accountable for changing the fate of their new franchises.
Kevin Durant was once one of the most respected and admired competitors across the league. After his 4th of July decision to leave Oklahoma City joining Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green, and the Warriors in Golden State, the 2014 Most Valuable Player became an instant villain, and, may have ruined his legacy for the long haul. Sure, the two-year deal worth $54.3 million is worthwhile, but Durant’s main concern is winning; something he had already experienced in Oklahoma City. Of course he hadn’t won a championship during his time with the Thunder, but had a great number of winning seasons and impressive playoff runs alongside Russell Westbrook in the “The Big Friendly.” The closest Durant came to snagging a ring was in the 2012 NBA Finals where his Oklahoma City Thunder fell 4-1 against the Miami Heat. Durant’s view on winning is “championship or bust.” The newly formed superteam in Golden State is going all-in for their second title in three seasons with their newest acquisition.
On the other hand, another top-tier free-agent would make a decision that stunned millions. Dwyane Wade was taken with the fifth overall pick in the 2003 NBA Draft by the Miami Heat and lead them to three championships since. After team president Pat Riley failed to satisfy Wade with much lower contract offer than expected, the twelve-time all-star decided to return home to Chicago as a Bull. After years of watching his childhood idol Michael Jordan win championships just miles away, Wade always dreamed of playing in the United Center with the word “Bulls” written across his chest. In 2016-17, Wade’s lifelong dream will become a reality. Miami Heat fans–as well as the rest of the NBA world–respect the winning formula Wade once brought to Miami and the decision he made on July 6, 2016. The pain felt from his departure is healing through the the excitement he once brought to the city of Miami during his championship years with the Heat.
Of course, the thought of abandoning ship once came across the minds of these especially loyal players, but they all never made a move. Kobe Bryant once demanded a trade, Tim Duncan once contemplated joining the Orlando Magic, but both stayed put. Dirk Nowitzki… well, he’s likely never thought about leaving Dallas—and most likely never will—but that’s beside the point. Two of the all-time greats almost left, but worked to turn the bad times into good, slowly gaining ground to their goal after the thought of completing it somewhere else. Bryant used it as rage, while Duncan waited for two teammates (Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili) to develop into an unstoppable, championship-winning trio; both are certainly glad they never left.
Takes notes, NBA free-agents in 2017.