Ohio Governor John Kasich made a stunning announcement on June 13, only hours after the Dallas Maverick’s whipped the Miami Heat and claimed their first NBA title. Kasich proclaimed, “Now, Therefore, I, John R. Kasich, Governor of the State of Ohio, do hereby name the Dallas Mavericks organization, friends, family and fans as honorary Ohioans, with all privileges and honors therein, for the day of June 14, 2011.”
Kasich, never one to mince words, was apparently communicating a message to LeBron James, former star of the Cleveland Cavaliers who jumped ship and fled to Miami in order to claim an NBA title.
The Kasich resolution placed a clear stake in the ground: “NBA Finals Most Valuable Player Dirk Nowitzki chose to re-sign with the Dallas Mavericks in the summer of 2010, forgoing free agency and keeping his talents in Dallas, thus remaining loyal to the team, city and fans for whom he played his entire career …”
It is true that professional athletes are traded every day, often to the bitter chagrin of the player on the block. However, too often, players sell out for their own glory. The net result: Cities that feels disenfranchised and thousands of little kids who feel let down.
It is also true that professional athletes are businessmen who have the right to earn what the market will bear. But at what expense and whose expense? And should the all-mighty dollar ever dislodge loyalty?
Where are the athletes like Cal Ripken, Jr. who played his heart out for twenty-one years with the Orioles? Or what about a class act like Edgar Martinez who quietly and faithfully endured eighteen years with the Mariners (and many of those years were losing years)? Where are the heroes like Steve Largent who played fourteen years with the Seahawks or Bart Starr who gave sixteen years of his life with the Packers? And where are the players who stick it out with one team like Bill Russell and Larry Bird who both played thirteen years for the Celtics?
Some probably think that Governor Kasich took a cheap shot at LeBron James. My own view is that the good governor simply wanted to make a point about the importance of loyalty – or lack of loyalty. Perhaps the greater lesson is Nowitzki’s decision to remain loyal to his original team, the Dallas Mavericks. Nowitzki will never have a drawer full of rings like some NBA stars. But he can proudly wear at least one championship ring – and he didn’t have to sell out to earn the right to wear it.
My late grandfather used to warn young pastors, “Never sell your soul for a mess of pottage.” That lesson wears well in the ministry. And it works just as well on the basketball court.