Sunday, July 11, 2010

To whom should LeBron James be loyal?

By Tom Grant
PhD student, Center for ETHICS*

Loyalty is such a fickle virtue. Fans in Cleveland burned the jersey of LeBron James because he decided to sign with Miami.

The question wasn’t money. James would have made more money in Cleveland. And fans expected him to be loyal to the city. However, James’ question really wasn’t loyalty. James was loyal – to winning, and perhaps to his new teammates Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh.

Wade, Bosh and James plotted the deal that brought them together to form a new NBA powerhouse. Reportedly, they’ve talked about playing together professionally ever since their days on the U.S. Olympic team. It’s not collusion when players themselves decide to play together. It’s about maximizing returns in money and victories.

Cleveland owner Dan Gilbert didn’t see it that way, of course. He called James a quitter and a coward. Many writers sided with Gilbert, saying James was neither loyal nor royal in his treatment of Cleveland.

Others, however, say James owes no loyalty to anyone, particularly owners. The Reason Foundation emphasizes that basketball is a team sport, and that James is merely doing what a rational entrepreneur would do: taking his talent to the most productive place.

Kevin Garnett, who labored for years on unproductive Minnesota teams, said loyalty may actually be harmful to a player: "Loyalty is something that hurts you at times, because you can't get youth back.”

But one interesting question for all of us is what James’ actions say about loyalty as a virtue in sports and in life. One human relations writer called it the “death of loyalty.” Lance Haun said loyalty can no longer be expected from top performers in sports or business, and called on executives to quit building their teams on the superstars: “Whether you have a roster of 15 or a business of 15,000, you can’t just do it with your top 5 percent. And if all your business actions are focused on appeasing those one or two superstars, just remember that when they leave you need a Plan B (or even Plan C).”

Basketball coach John Wooden preached loyalty, but he preached it as part of a team approach to the game. "The main ingredient in stardom," Wooden told his players, "is the rest of the team."

How important is loyalty is sports today? Who should athletes be loyal to? For how long? And what kind of example is James when it comes to loyalty?

Here's what Dr. Sharon Kay Stoll says about loyalty.

1 comment:

  1. Be loyal to the game and the process of winning. James was loyal to the almight dollar and the W-I-N. Take Jordan for example. The early Bulls were terrible...Jordan carried every win. It wasn't until management began to build the team around him that they began the winning. Jordan was loyal the game. He even had the "for the love of the game" clause in his contract. If that isn't loyalty to the game, I dont' know what is. James and many many of the other "younger" NBA athletes have all one thing in much money can I make. Either James was disloyal to the game or the Cavs Mgmt were idiots to not plan and let a good one go!