When we think of the idea of loyalty in the NBA we think of Kobe, Duncan and Dirk, legends of the game who played out the entirety of their careers for a single team and for the most part winning. Until recently the idea of loyalty to a team has been something we highlight when referring to the legacy that a player leaves behind after retirement. I think about Tim Duncan and his consistent success in San Antonio as the best model, he stuck around while being paid less towards the end of his career as many other teams could have offered him big money to bring his presence to a young developing team. Others often think of Kobe but we can't forget that during the Shaq era he wanted out, we all know how that ended up but had Kobe left would we have scolded him for leaving L.A. and questioned his loyalty? It's hard to believe we would have, being that he would have been leaving one of the biggest markets in the NBA, a city that hasn't exactly struggled to bring in stars.
Now imagine a star forward leaving a smaller market to chase a title after falling short year after year. What if that player abandoned a star running mate and future MVP and went on to win the title the following year by joining one of the best teams of all time? I feel like there would be some grumpy fans out there, they might call him names like cupcake or snake, harsh stuff, I know but this is all hypothetical.
Try this one. Imagine a feisty, small point guard who against all odds fought his way to the top of the league, having an incredible season while averaging 28.9 points a game and leading his team to the eastern conference finals, even grinding his way through a serious hip injury and playing immediately after suffering the tragic loss of his sister in one of the most heroic playoff performances we've ever seen. Suddenly out of nowhere he's traded for a rival guard who's team eliminated his the year earlier. You could say he might have become some sort of folk hero to the people of that city, everyone would question the GM for the trade and everyone would show this feisty guard utmost respect and wish him well right? There's no way anyone would do anything crazy like burn his jersey right? That would be crazy, I can't believe I even thought of that, there's just no way, I'm just getting carried away.
Wait a minute, it turns out both of those hypotheticals happened? Seriously? They burned that dudes jersey? Yes they did. Kevin Durant left Oklahoma City and has become the villain of the league showing us that Loyalty really does matter, to some people. While the flip side had Isaiah Thomas pouring out his heart and soul out for a team only to have them coldly move him out because, after all, it is a business.
Loyalty is something that goes both ways and in the NBA there is no guaranteeing your future with a team. Kevin Durant did what was best for him, the same way you or I would change employers for more money or a better position. Danny Ainge did what was best for the Celtics, moving out a guard who's health was in question for a proven playoff killer. It remains to be seen just how much true loyalty remains in the NBA. Many players and teams talk the talk but will they walk the walk? Will Damian Lillard finish his career in Portland? Will Giannis or Porzingis leave if they see their teams wasting their prime? At the end of the day the Agents, Players and GM's of the league will do whats best for themselves in a league where we judge a career on rings more and more while we learn over and over again that loyalty is conditional.