Atomic City Update: Loyalty has disappeared from professional sports

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By Phil Scherer

For sports fans, July 1 is one of the most exciting days of the year. It’s the day NBA and NHL free agency begin, and the entire sports world is buzzing as players choose their new teams and fans can begin daydreaming about what the upcoming season might look like. 

Fans go crazy when a player doesn’t choose their teams, and dance in the streets when a highly coveted free agent chooses to play in their city. General managers hold conference calls where they highlight all of the positive traits of the players they acquired, while ignoring any of the glaring weaknesses their team may still have. 

There is perhaps more sports talk on that day than nay other day of the year, and it is always circled on my calendar. 

However, that day also exposes a problem in sports, one that gets worse every year. 

There is no loyalty in sports anymore, and as someone who grew up hearing about so many players in different sports spending their whole career in one place, that’s sad. 

On July 1 this year, NBA superstar LeBron James decided to take his talents to Los Angeles, where he will join the Lakers, basketball’s most storied franchise. In doing so, he left his hometown Cleveland Cavaliers for the second time since 2010. 

After being defeated in the NBA Finals by the Golden State Warriors for the second year in a row, James decided heading for (potentially) greener pastures would be a good idea. 

But the problem is, his journey reminds me more of a high school career than a professional one at this point. 

He spent 2010-2014 with the Miami Heat, 2014-2018 with the Cleveland Cavaliers and has now committed to be with the Los Angeles Lakers from 2018-2022. That’s four years at each place. 

It’s like a high school that has a star freshman. They know they have to win while he is there, because the window closes for a championship as soon as he is gone. And once he leaves, the team he leaves goes into an extreme rebuild because they have been so dependant on their superstar for so long. 

Maybe I’m not thinking the right way about the current landscape of professional sports, and specifically the NBA. Maybe an expectation of superstar players staying in one place for their whole career is just unrealistic at this point. And if that’s the case, it really is sad. 

When I think of the players I truly admire in sports, so many of them are players who left a lasting legacy on one team. 

Tony Gwynn spent his entire career with the San Diego Padres. Cal Ripken Jr. spent his entire career with the Baltimore Orioles. John Elway spent his entire career with the Denver Broncos. Magic Johnson spent his entire career with the Los Angeles Lakers. Larry Bird spent his entire career with the Boston Celtics. 

The sports world needs more of these people today, because being a beloved figure in a community, both on the field and off the field, is worth more than any championship. 

There is no doubt that any sense of loyalty has flown out the window today. I just hope that there are a few athletes out there that recognize the value it truly can have.