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Loyalty in the National Basketball Association

NBA All-Star Chris Bosh of the Miami Heat recently made headlines being quoted for saying that loyalty has no place in free agency. Bosh mentions that at a store, you’d go to a store that has the cheaper price for your item, so how is basketball any different? You go where it makes sense for you.

I admit I was a bit shocked by Bosh’s comments because I am a fan of Chris Bosh and I respect everything he does on and off the court. While his new teammate LeBron James was busy rubbing it in Cleveland’s face, Bosh chose the high road and thanked all his Toronto fans for his time there. However, in this case – I have to disagree with Bosh. Just because sports are a business does not mean loyalty should be “an added bonus” as he puts it.

Before I go any further, I believe it is absolutely the player’s right to go play basketball wherever they want, and they shouldn’t need an excuse to want to go play elsewhere. In fact, when Bosh and James announced that they were heading to Miami, I didn’t mind it at all, although I was appalled at the way James announced it. A brief conversation with my friend went something like this:

Friend: It’s so stupid that LeBron and Bosh both went to Miami.

Me: If you got to choose to live in freezing cold Toronto or in the sunny beaches of Miami, which would you choose?

Where I disagree with Bosh is that loyalty should not be in the equation of free agency in professional sports since ‘it is a business’. I believe that loyalty is vastly underrated in business today.

Take a look at the empire Tony Hsieh has built with Zappos. If it were ‘just business’, Zappos would not be the billion dollar business it is today. It makes more sense for a customer to try their shoes on at a store. It makes more sense to shop at the merchant with the cheapest prices, which in many times is not Zappos. Zappos is successful because they did make it personal and chose to gain a consumer’s trust by providing top notch customer service, and customers responded with loyalty and repeat sales.

Edging a little closer to sports, let’s take a look at the blockbuster movie Jerry Maguire (spoiler alert).

When Jerry was at the lowest point of his game as a sports agent, NFL football player Rod Tidwell stuck with him when nobody else did for one reason: loyalty. Rod trusted that Jerry would bring him success in his career, money in his pocket, and above all, happiness. It was not what Bosh would call a ‘business decision’ as there were less risky agents for Tidwell to sign with.

A sports cliche we often hear from athletes goes something like: “At the end of the day, I had to do what was best for me and my family”. It is an interesting one because it allows spectators to realize that athletes are just normal people who have families to feed and want to be happy. For most athletes, happiness comes in the form of winning. When Bosh says that loyalty isn’t in the equation, it isn’t true. Loyalty is defined by the dictionary as staying faithful to a cause and in reality, Bosh’s trust for Toronto’s vision to make him happy (aka build a championship contender) faded over time with poor personnel decisions by the Raptors. He no longer felt like General Manager Bryan Colangelo and the Raptors could take him where he wanted to go and his loyalty went away.

Fans should never think that loyalty lasts forever. Player loyalty is never a given, and even when it is earned, it can still be taken away if the player loses their trust in the organization.

However, organizations and teams should continue to put player loyalty as one of their primary goals because when an athlete believes that your team can help them accomplish their own goals, they will remain loyal and stay with you (See – Kevin Durant).

As an added bonus, players talk amongst each other. If you can convince your star players to remain loyal to you, they may just help you get that final piece your team needs to go for the championship. Just ask Pat Riley.

Do you think loyalty still plays a role in sports? How does your team focus on ’employee’ or player loyalty?

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12 Responses to Loyalty in the National Basketball Association

  1. Luke Bowler August 27, 2010 at 2:31 pm #

    Great timely article Sam. I agree; loyalty swings both ways, similar to how we might approach our own working life (if not less a few 000s). Where we feel respected, engaged and empowered we’re willing to offer our loyalty but, from the perspective of the employer, it’s often an undervalued offer.

    Whilst loyalty, very much a human and emotional response, is expected by an employer, it’s often cited as ‘merely business’ when an employee is made redundant despite the personal impact that might have.

    Perhaps Chris Bosh could have rephrased his comment but there’s little doubt that his response comes from personal experience of balancing personal and professional life. And, after all, our loyalty is only shown by what we do.

  2. Sam August 27, 2010 at 4:48 pm #

    Thanks for your comment, Luke. You hit the nail on the coffin. I believe that business is about to get a lot more personal and interactive (social media is leading the parade) and to be honest it hurts a bit that the NBA is trending in the opposite direction. I’m not a fan of the moves Leon Rose has been making with Chris Paul and Melo’s Careers. In my humble opinion, they are making the league a lot smaller.

  3. Pawel August 28, 2010 at 7:29 am #

    I think people need to remember this: Loyalty is a 2-way street. An organization has to be loyal to its members in order to get the same in return. Whether this means, in the case of sports paying well in addition to building a championship contender, or in the case of work life, (normal work, as Luke Bowler said below …. far less 000s) treating people like humans and not as expendable liabilities.

    regarding the topic of Zappos, I had learned some time ago, when selling motorcycles as a weekend job in grad school, that price is secondary. Sell the relationship, then it’s easy to sell the product. Customer service can trump price (to a point I should add).

  4. Sam August 28, 2010 at 8:43 pm #

    Thanks for your comment Pawel! Much appreciated.

  5. Gonsalez8 September 6, 2010 at 12:11 pm #

    For me is hard to believe in loyalty in the american Frachise model. Im a big fan of the american model, but it is true that sports in general are consider more like a buisiness or an industry (thats what i like about it), specially in pro leagues.
    I come from amateur rugby, and in club level its more often that players get to feel their shirts colours, and some love for the club they play. Mainly because they feel that the club its like their second home. Relationship with the coach, with your mates, its not as cold as in pro leagues.
    So for me its totally justified Bosh desicssion.

  6. Sam September 7, 2010 at 5:26 am #

    That’s really interesting! Thanks for your comments!

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