As things kind of settle down and shake out after the embarrassing LeBron James spectacle several weeks ago, it pretty quickly occurred to me that what we may be seeing is not simply the wretched excess that comes from our deification of a particular athlete as much as evidence of yet another real shift in the relationship between player and management.
Already, the rumblings are being heard from other big hoop stars suggesting they might like to have some say about their future destinations.
I still remember what the widespread reaction of fans was like 45 years ago when Sandy Koufax and Don Drysdale had one of those pinkie-finger pacts between pals and decided the Dodgers should pony up $500,000 each for matching three-year deals, and then they held themselves out of spring training to emphasize the point.
I remember being struck by the egalitarian nature of it then, though, of course, I wouldn’t have been able to articulate the view in quite that fashion. I just thought it was pretty cool of Koufax to throw his lot in with his buddy on a completely matching request, since as great as Drysdale was, he was no Koufax.
At the time there was a real sense from fans – fed no doubt by crusty old sportswriters – that there was something a little outrageous and even presumptuous about what the pair was doing. Free agency was still 10 years away and most fans were reasonably comfortable with the status quo in baseball in terms of the yet-to-be defined as such labor/management questions.
Fast forward nearly a half century and you can make a pretty good case that that pesky swinging pendulum has careened wildly in the other direction, leaving the future in question as we try to wrestle with the idea of top players deciding where they want to be employed and even what teammates they might like to be playing with.
When we were kids we always fantasized about what it would be like if Mickey Mantle, Willie Mays and Henry Aaron could all play on the same team, which was part of the explanation of why the All-Star Game was such a revered event at the time.
Of course, we also wondered who would end up moving from his preferred outfield position to accommodate the other. Even then, we had some sense that placing more than one superstar on the same team might pose difficulties not immediately apparent from simply adding up the statistics on the back of their trading cards.
My oh my, it’s going to be an interesting season in the NBA this year.