One of my favorite movies is “American Gangster” starring Denzel Washington and Russell Crowe. Throughout the movie there are several powerful and quotable moments. The scene that stands out to me is the part where Frank Lucas (played by Washington) visits Italian mob boss Dominic Cattano (played by Armand Assante) at his home. In the scene, Dominic is talking to Frank about monopolies and dairy farmers and how no one likes a monopoly because no one likes to compete. He continues on to ask Frank (who at this point has begin to take over the heroin trade in New York) if he is thinking about his fellow “dairy farmers”. Frank’s response is classic – “I’m thinking of them, Dominic, about as much as they’ve ever thought about me.” Loosely translated, he simply said – “I am as loyal to you as you are to me” or “Everything is second to business including friendships and relationships”.
By design, professional sports is a business. In the last several years, smart athletes have adopted this principle with regard to their careers. Every career decision can’t be based on emotion. It is the worst way to operate in business especially when the large conglomerate operates solely on the belief of what is best for business is best for business. Pro Sports isn’t exempt from this model and in truth, shouldn’t be excused.
In a perfect sports world, no stars would be traded or allowed to leave a team and join a rival. In a perfect sports world, every team would have the same amount of star players that could lead them to a championship. In a perfect sports world, no team would ever screw up a draft pick or a player signing. In a perfect sports world, every owner and organization would have equivalent resources to keep teams together, players paid and fans excited to come to the stadium.
But alas, the world of sports like the real world isn’t perfect. Owners screw up. Players screw up. Fans get fed up. It is an imperfect system that requires quite a bit of patient competence from all invested parties. The smart owner realizes that every good business decision isn’t always good for the team. The smart player knows that all money isn’t good money especially if their primary goal is winning. The astute fan understands that owners and players both look out for themselves first and foremost because the business of sports is not fun when you are losing.
The “loyalty” tie that should bind these three entities should be the loyalty to winning. As much as you could criticize some of (and there are quite a few) Jerry Jones’ or the late Al Davis’ questionable personnel decisions, you can’t or couldn’t question either of their commitment to winning. When NBA players who’ve made a lot of money take “less” money switch to teams that have great chances to win a championship, what’s the rationale of criticizing them if they seem to be intent on winning? If a fan reaches a point where they are fed up with petulant players, incompetent management and ownership that appears to show no desire for anything except to make a buck, should it come as a major surprise when they no longer show up at the stadium to support the team?
Several years ago, when Danny Ainge opened his mouth to say that the Celtics wanted Ray Allen back and that Ray left them, Ainge was out of his mind. How much did they want him back?? They tried to trade him two trade deadlines in a row. That’s like your significant other telling you they are getting rid of you and when they realize they can’t, they keep and you hope you stay around even if you have a better out. Is that loyalty? Allen got hurt and lost his starting position to Avery Bradley. A future Hall-of-Famer and one of the best shooting guards ever opted to leave Boston and go to Miami where he’d be the backup to the best shooting guard currently in the game rather than stay in Boston and backup Avery Bradley. To paraphrase Allen Iverson – we’re talking about backing up Avery Bradley, not D-Wade, not Kobe, we’re talking about AVERY BRADLEY!!!
Additionally, when did loyalty to someone who is richer than you become a rule?? Especially if they have made it clear the moment you begin to cost them more than you earn them spells the rich guy trying to find a way to end your arrangement. Is that loyalty? No, that’s business.…
Or in the words of Frank Lucas in “American Gangster” – “I’m thinking of them about as much as they’ve ever thought about me”.