The Walrus is not a huge fan of pro basketball. Occasionally, I’ll watch part of a game, but there’s no team I follow regularly, none I root for, and I have no real interest in stats and standings. But some things in the sports world are just too big to ignore.
Last year’s NBA finals offered a great example. The Miami Heat taking on the Dallas Mavericks was more than a championship series; it was a morality play.
On one side were LeBron James and his fellow superstars. The Mavericks featured Dirk Nowitzki and his journeyman teammates. Less than a year earlier, “St. James” had announced on national television that he was leaving the Cleveland Cavaliers and “taking [his] talents to South Beach.”
In spurning the city that had followed his career from its beginning for 7 years, James became a pariah, and prime example of an egotistical jerk. Even the Walrus was moved to root for Dallas, and was happy when the Mavs won the championship.
Baseball great Albert Pujols left the St. Louis Cardinals under better circumstances last fall after his team won the World Series. But like James, his departure left a hole in the heart of a sports-loving city. When it came right down to it, both men left smaller markets for more exposure — and more money — elsewhere.
We shouldn’t be surprised. That’s the way of the world in sports these days. Go for the biggest TV audience, the most money, the flash and the cash.
Yet for the fans, it’s about more. In team sports, when you preach that teamwork is everything, don’t be surprised when the fans expect you to be a team player. They don’t want to think you’re in their home city just to collect a paycheck.
In recent weeks, Orlando Magic superstar Dwight Howard showed signs of following in James’s golden footsteps, either by a trade he sought, or through free agency this summer. Orlando media outlets have been filled with stories of the impending loss, and what it would mean to the Magic, and to the city.
Howard had options. He easily could have taken his talents to New York, the biggest market, the flashiest city. Guaranteed megabucks. So what did he do?
He chose, albeit at the last minute, to stay in Orlando, saying “you know my heart, my soul, and everything I have is in Orlando. I just can’t leave it behind.”
That’s not all. He even went on to APOLOGIZE to fans for the “circus” — his word — he caused, and vowed to “do whatever I can to make this right.”
Let me see if I’ve got this straight. Not only did Howard choose to remain loyal to his teammates, and the city that nurtured his career and practically begged him to stay, he apologized for creating unnecessary drama? That’s the mark of a class act.
Bravo, Mr. Howard. You could have been the next LeBron James. By choosing a different path, you’ve become something much more.
And The Walrus now has an NBA team to root for.