When LeBron James jumped from the Cleveland Cavaliers to the Miami Heat, there was a backlash about how this had ruined his reputation, that he was soft, and that this was a terrible thing for the NBA.
Seven years later, and seven Finals appearances with three titles later, that’s not really the case. Granted, it took a handful of titles and a return to Cleveland for everyone to come around again, but through it all NBA ratings kept climbing, LeBron’s rings helped secure his legacy as one of the game’s all-time greats, and he’s selling more shoes here and overseas than ever. LeBron’s brand was fine.
We heard the same complaints this year with Kevin Durant in Golden State, and in an article for Bleacher Report Magazine Durant told Howard Beck that LeBron paved the way, and discussed his choice to join a powerhouse.
Though Durant says he did not consider James’ precedent, he readily admits, “He paved the way.”…
“As time goes on, and the changes start to become normal, people will start looking at it as normal,” Durant says. “I hope and pray that they make a decision that’s best for them, and nobody else….
“That’s what free agency is about—doing what you want to do. I commend LeBron. I commend LaMarcus Aldridge. I commend guys that stay, because they did what they wanted to do. That’s the power of free agency.”
Durant has not seen near the backlash LeBron did, and if he wins a title or three in Golden State, in 15 years nobody is going to look back at those as somehow tainted. Anyone saying that is just trying to make noise in the moment (or from OKC). Also, since Game 2 was the highest-rated Game 2 in the Finals since the Jordan era, most fans don’t seem bothered either.
Durant is right, free agency is earned in the NBA through time played in the league, and once earned players should do with it what is best for them. Leave, stay, either way they have earned a right to choose where they work the same way you and I could switch jobs if unhappy, or if we are offered more money.
The NBA has put a salary cap in place to make it difficult to form superteams like the Warriors, and KD’s move was only possible because of a couple of big fluke things (Curry’s ankle issues when he signed his last contract, keeping his price down, and the spike in the salary cap due to the new television deal). It will be much harder for other teams to form these kinds of powerhouses.
But it will happen. Maybe more and more often now with this precedent set. Go read the entire Bleacher Report article to see the concern from some around the league.
Is that bad for the NBA? The league was its most popular when Michael Jordan powered a superteam in Chicago. The groundwork for his explosion was laid by super teams on the Lakers and Celtics. The NBA has always thrived with its biggest stars on its biggest stage, and if you flatten out the talent pool too much to try to get a return to the 1970s… when were the Finals shown then? Oh, that’s right, on tape delay after the late news. Things are not headed back to that era, but you get the point. Complain about superteams if you wish, history suggests they are not bad for the NBA.