If you’re a Celtics or Suns fan, that’s probably the best word to describe what happened last week. As you watched your beloved stars announce their decisions to join teams that you’ve no doubt grown to hate with a violent passion, all you could do was shake your head in disbelief.
Ray Allen to the Heat. Steve Nash to the Lakers. Even if you’re not a Celtics or Suns fan, you still must have asked, “How the hell did that happen?”
So how the hell did it happen? In June, Nash wasn’t even sure that he would be leaving Phoenix. But on Independence Day, three days after Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak contacted Nash, the 38-year-old veteran point guard’s move to the City of Angels was finalized. A mere two days later, Allen agreed to a two-year, $6.3 million contract with the Heat, despite the fact that the Celtics offered twice as much.
The sudden nature of these moves made them all the more baffling. Nash is joining a longstanding conference foe with which he’s had a heated playoff history. Likewise, Allen is signing with a team that ended his NBA playoff run the past two seasons. And I can’t be the only one who thinks that Allen in a Heat jersey doesn’t even look right.
I’m not saying that the players should bear the blame. Every athlete wants to win. In terms of personal career moves, Allen and Nash both made good, if not great, decisions.
Had Allen stayed with the Celtics, he would’ve most likely had to battle with up-and-comer Avery Bradley and newly signed Jason Terry for playing time, not to mention rumors of his deteriorating relationship with Rajon Rondo. For Nash, it was about putting himself in the best position to win a championship while staying close to his family. Both Allen and Nash wanted to add at least one more championship to their already illustrious careers. The two veterans followed the old saying to the letter: If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em.
If you can’t really blame the players, then that leaves the league to be the scapegoat for allowing these kinds of trades and signings to happen in the first place. Add that to the already endless list of things you hate about the NBA.
But as it turns out, the NBA isn’t only the professional sports league that’s seen its fair share of eye-popping trades and signings. In the NFL, we saw Brett Favre going from the Packers to the Vikings. In the MLB, it was Johnny Damon from the Red Sox to the Yankees. In the NHL, it was Eric Lindros from the Flyers to the Rangers. In the eyes of devastated fans, those players were sports traitors. Well, they probably were. But the fact that these athletes were even allowed to jump from one rival team to another is a testament to how some professional leagues can be excruciating to follow.
And that’s why college sports, for me at least, will always be infinitely better to watch and follow than professional sports.
In the pros, it’s never safe for fans to get too attached to any player. At any given moment, the star player on your favorite team could sign with or be traded to an archrival. Only a few franchise players are somewhat immune. Kobe Bryant would probably rather pass the ball than be shipped to the Celtics. Derek Jeter would probably rather retire than wear a Red Sox hat. Tom Brady would probably rather lose both Rob Gronkowski and Wes Welker than play for Rex Ryan. But you can’t say for sure that even those transactions can’t ever happen. After all, most Packers fans believed that Favre would end his career on Lambeau Field after being at Green Bay for 16 seasons, but they got a slap in the face two years later when Favre reappeared in a purple uniform.
In college, there’s no such thing as quitting one team to join a Big Three or any kind of dream team. When Andrew Luck came back last season, he didn’t transfer to Oklahoma State so that he would have Justin Blackmon to throw to. He came back to play with his teammates and made the best of what he had. And if the end result was losing to Oklahoma State in the Fiesta Bowl, then so be it. It’s easy to take that kind of loyalty in college athletics for granted, but that doesn’t mean it’s not there. Loyalty is what defines college sports.
It’s true that many college athletes will go pro before playing out their four years. But if they do elect to return, it’s with the same teams. Transfers certainly happen, but they’re nowhere near as prolific as the trades that occur in the pros. Most college athletes will never win a national championship, but they still stick it out at their schools. They’d rather go down fighting with their teammates than find a shortcut to winning. As a fan, you have to respect that.
And the appreciation that you develop for college athletes goes far beyond their college careers. I’m a Boston sports fan, which means that I’m never going to like the Colts. But when Andrew Luck takes the field against the Pats in November, I’ll still root for him. As for Ray Allen, I’ll always respect him, but I certainly won’t be cheering him on when the Celtics and the Heat meet next year.
“There’s no loyalty in sports,” Nash told ESPN in an interview explaining how he came to sign with the Lakers. Nash could very well make it to the NBA Finals with Kobe next season, but that won’t mean what he said was correct.
In professional sports, loyalty might be non-existent. But in college sports, loyalty is everything.
George Chen better not be questioning his loyalty to The Stanford Daily. Make sure he stays put at firstname.lastname@example.org.