As sports fans, we all have our favorite players. We adorn their jerseys every game day and study every statistic on the backs of their trading cards. Certain players become synonymous with their teams: Joe Montana and the 49ers, Emmitt Smith and the Cowboys, Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls. It is difficult to picture any of those athletes in a different team’s uniform, but the reality is sports are a business. The best teams separate emotional ties to on-field performance. No one owes anyone anything, and players are expendable. Cut ties before it is too late. Pay players for what they give, not what they gave.
This past week, NBA superstar and Miami Heat legend Dwayne Wade made his long-awaited return to American Airlines Arena in Miami, Fla., for the first time since signing with the Chicago Bulls. Wade, the 2006 NBA Final MVP, a future NBA Hall of Famer and the Heat’s all-time leader in minutes played, points scored and championship rings, turned down a two-year $40 million deal with the Heat for a two-year $47 million deal with his hometown Bulls. In a post-game press conference, he called Thursday’s game the “weirdest basketball game I’ve played in my life” — a life that included 13 seasons in Miami.
After Wade turned down the deal, Pat Riley, the president of the Miami Heat, fell under heavy criticism for his lack of negotiations with Wade and failure to offer him a larger contract. Heat fans feel as though Wade should have been allowed to name his price. He helped build the Heat into a dynasty and is arguably Miami’s best professional athlete ever. He voluntarily accepted a six-year contract with a $15 million discount in order to allow the team to sign LeBron James and Chris Bosh in 2010. Fans say Wade should have been offered a larger contract this offseason as an act of good faith, a way to repay the man for all of the greatness he has brought to the city of Miami.
If we have learned anything, however, from watching teams spend exorbitant amounts on colossal contracts to aging superstars, it is that Riley made the right business decision. Signing Wade to a lofty contract in a league with a salary cap would surely hamstring the Miami Heat, preventing them from using their salaries toward other, younger players. Providing him a parachute-package contract would stifle the Heat’s potential for growth and delay their plans at rebuilding toward another championship, as we saw with last year’s Los Angeles Lakers.
At $24 million a year, the Lakers made Kobe Bryant the highest-paid player in the NBA for his final two seasons, despite being arguably the statistically worst player in the league over that same span. While fans were able to salute an NBA all-timer, the organization was prevented from successfully entering the free agent market and proposing legitimate contract offers to other talented stars. Bryant’s behemoth contract, seen as a “thank you” present from the organization for 20 great seasons, ended up forming a roadblock for the team’s path to future success.
As the Lakers have started the 2016 NBA season, one free of the anvil and anchor himself, they have jumped out to a surprisingly fast start. With plenty of cash to spend and a team lacking a dominant ball hog, young talent is improving and the Lakers appear to be headed back to the playoffs.
Then there is the pinnacle of all model sports franchises, the New England Patriots. Bill Belichick has fostered a reputation of ridding the organization of players perhaps a year too early, rather than a year late. This past offseason, the Patriots gave up one of their best defenders, Chandler Jones, to the Arizona Cardinals for a second-round draft pick and an offensive lineman who has since been cut. Earlier this season, the Patriots even sent their best defender, Jamie Collins — who was rumored to be seeking the richest linebacker contract in the league — to the NFL purgatory Cleveland Browns for just a draft pick. Conversations of life after Brady have even risen.
For years, Belichick has made these questionable decisions to make business-savvy moves that will save the Patriots money in the long run, all while continuing to dominate opponents on the field.
In professional sports, players are owed no favors. The Cowboys are not obligated to play Tony Romo. The Cardinals let Albert Pujols walk. The Packers cut ties with Brett Favre. The Colts said goodbye to Peyton Manning. Do not fall victim to your love for a player. Relationships are great. Winning is better.
Thomas Schlarp is a sophomore in the School of Nursing and Health Studies. The Stove appears every Tuesday.
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