Lebron James with haloImage by Craig Hatfield via Flickr

Let me get this straight: the Cleveland Cavaliers drafted LeBron James because they won the right to do so in a lottery. (Remember?) Now LeBron has chosen to play somewhere else, and everybody hates him because he’s disloyal. To the team that won him.  In a lottery.  If the ping pong balls had bounced differently, it would be Detroit or Denver cursing LeBron’s name now and burning his jersey in the street.  (Actually, I think Detroit is burning his jersey in the street anyway, because… it’s Detroit. That’s what they do.)

It’s not like he was a scrappy, borderline NBA player–a sort of inner-city Rudy, except with Chris Rock instead of Sean Astin–and the Cavs took a chance on him when no one else would.  Somebody was going to pay LeBron a whole bunch of money to play basketball in the NBA, and Cleveland, through pure chance, got to be the first in line.  LeBron went to Cleveland, served out his contract, and then left. Now everybody’s up in arms over his mercenary lack of “loyalty.”

LeBron James may in fact be short on loyalty, for all I know. But this instance seems like kind of a distorted use of the word.

Do you owe loyalty to someone who won you in a lottery?  Yes, after they won you, they were very nice to you and paid you a lot of money and hung up giant pictures of you, telling you all the while how much they looooovey-lovey-LOVE you!  But anybody else who won you would’ve done the same thing. So what makes the people who won you any more deserving of loyalty than anybody else?  They’re luckier?

Loyalty implies a commitment to someone who has earned loyalty through a previous act of support or sacrifice.  If you give extraordinary support to someone who hasn’t given you extraordinary benefits in the past, that’s not loyalty, that’s charity.  Both are good things, but they’re different.

I think that what Cleveland fans are asking for is more like charity.  “Forget what you want and stay with us, LeBron! Because we’re the team you played for last year!”   But people who are asking for charity often don’t like to think that they’re asking for charity, so they disguise it as something else.  They convince themselves that they are owed something, and if you deny it, then that’s a character flaw on your part. Disloyalty! After we were so good to you!  And to think of all those times I kept myself from cursing out your mother when you missed a free throw!

Whether LeBron made the right decision remains to be seen.  But the more I see the reaction of the Cleveland fans, the more I’m glad he wasn’t guilt-tripped into staying based on dubious claims on his loyalty.

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