I enjoy a powerful indifference to basketball: fun game to play, boring to watch. So I lack any emotional reaction at all to the LeBron James saga.
That said, Mike’s post leaves me puzzled. Apparently, in Mike’s eyes, Mr. James has done something he shouldn’t have by leaving Cleveland for Miami. And it has something to do with preferring his own advantage over that of the team or the city and region it purports to represent.
That suggests that James had an obligation of some sort to the Cavs or to Cleveland, that made his departure an outrage while the migration of an academic from, let’s say, Northwestern to Yale to U. Va. in search of a fancier title, bigger salary, higher-caliber students and colleagues, or a more pleasant environment in which to live and raise a family is normal and expected.
But what does that obligation consist of, and how did James incur it? Did the team or the city do something in particular to help make him a star, such that his departure represents ingratitude? My understanding is that he did not choose the Cavs, but was assigned to that team in the draft. Surely, having been the victim of a conspiracy in restraint of trade, forced to negotiate with a monopsonist buyer of one’s talents, can’t create an obligation of loyalty to the monopsonist if, when the term of the indenture is up, another employer offers a more attractive deal?
As one of Mike’s commenters mentions, sports stars are the frequent targets of moralizing. It’s hard to separate this phenomenon from race and class: pro sports is one of the few very few ways of moving from the bottom income quintile to the top income percentile that won’t land you in prison, especially if you’re black or Latino. So sports stars attract some of the opprobruim traditionally directed at the parvenu in aristocratic societies: the “base-born counselors” around the King that are a traditional grievance of not only rebellious nobles but of commoners as well. Mocking the parvenu is one way of asserting that the underlying structure of inherited status is fundamentally sound.
Now I can’t image that’s what Mike is up to. But I wish he’d make the gravamen of Mr. James’s supposed offense clear to the uninitiated. As to his puzzlement about how one could possibly spend $27 million a year, there are three obvious answers.
First, the combination of cocaine, hookers, big houses, luxury travel, designer clothing, and fast cars can absorb almost any amount of money, as more than one sports star and more than one rock star has demonstrated by dying broke. That’s not a very edifying way of spending mountains of cash, but it does explain why someone with more money than Mike or I can imagine spending might still want more.
Second, all of us have relatives and friends who encounter difficulty that might be eased with some money. That’s even more true of those who grow up poor. The impulse to help is, it seems to me, a praiseworthy one, and it has no natural upper bound.
Third, money is control over resources, for non-personal as well as personal uses. Imagine that the Heat offered James a deal that will net him, over the balance of his career, $20 million more than the Cavs were willing to offer. Now imagine that he decided to spend 10% of that gain on female literacy programs in Africa and another 10% of it on college scholarships for kids from the Cleveland ghetto, or decided instead that the money would have more leverage donated to Democratic Congressional and Senate candidates and to the party committees, to overcome the $200 million the plutocracy plans to stump up to defeat the socialist Obama. Is it vaguely conceivable that James would have done more good by staying where he was and not giving away that money?
So my second instinct, after saying “Who gives a damn one way or the other?” is to say “If LeBron James decided that his talents and efforts would be better rewarded in Miami than in Cleveland, then he had no obligation not to act on that decision.”