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There’s nothing like the family

Alex Coccia | Monday, December 6, 2010

The tricky aspect of professional sports is the line that is drawn between a sports franchise as a business and a sports franchise as a family. Without both the smart business deals by owners and the love and respect between the owners, coaches and players, teams do not succeed. However, two recent business deals in two different sports have convinced me that the side of family is more important than the business — nothing replaces the family.

You’d think that as an Ohioan, I would love either the Cleveland Indians or the Cincinnati Reds in baseball, be a die-hard Ohio State football fan (even though I go to Notre Dame), live and breath for Blue Jackets hockey and follow Cleveland Cavaliers” basketball like it was the last thing on earth that mattered. But I don’t. I bleed Yankees’ baseball, have been a Notre Dame fan my entire life, couldn’t care less about hockey, and am less interested in pro-basketball than the exciting March Madness of college hoops. Nonetheless, I remember where I was when LeBron James gave his Decision. I remember being heartbroken for Cleveland that he “took his talents to South Beach.”

After the monumental decision that evidently only those in Cleveland and myself didn’t see coming, Cavs owner Dan Gilbert wrote a letter to all Cavs fans saying, “I personally guarantee that the Cleveland Cavaliers will win an NBA Championship before the self-titled former ‘King’ wins one.” I remember seeing the Witness signs of LeBron being removed, as if there was to be no evidence that he had ever called the city his home. I remember seeing the burning of the No. 23 jersey that had exemplified so much hope for Cleveland. I saw all of this, and despite my disregard for professional basketball and especially Ohio sports, I felt very bad for Cleveland.

Upon his decision, I concluded a few things. First, I blamed myself for giving into the media hype and watching the live “Decision” show. Second, clearly owner Dan Gilbert has more guts than LeBron. Third, I realized that I do not like the idea that professional sports teams are businesses. Of course they are, and there is no way around that. But without some sort of familial aspect, without some sort of loyalty and respect to the team, the sport itself collapses.

LeBron James said he went to Miami because he wants to win championships. Perhaps with Cleveland, LeBron did not stand a chance against the power three of Boston and the one-and-only Kobe Bryant of the Lakers. But the Cavs could build, and if LeBron had spent as much time advocating for his hometown as he had working on the dramatic effect of the “Decision” show, he may very well have succeeded in gaining a stronger supporting cast necessary for those championships he wants. LeBron could have been that guy who said to the rest of the country, “This is my hometown; this is my family; these are my fans. My loyalty to them and their’s to me means much more than a sunbath on South Beach.” If he had decided to stay in Cleveland, I can imagine that most people across the country, save Miami, would have been awed at his respectability. They would have said, “Bravo, LeBron. I am a Witness to the type of loyalty that should be exhibited as a value across this country. Bravo, No. 23.” But he didn’t stay in Cleveland, and the fans didn’t say that. LeBron forgot what loyalty was and, I believe, will be worse off for it in the long run.

Another family, a dominant family at that, is the New York Yankees. On Dec. 4, the Yankees resigned shortstop Derek Jeter for under his asking price, but with an option for a fourth year. The entire scenario — Derek Jeter potentially not being a Yankee — frightened me. True, many players switch teams in their careers. True, few players stay with one team their entire careers. But if one is to do it, it should be Derek Jeter. For all the talk of the Yankee Dynasty, that dynasty would have been nothing without the family. The consecutive championship streaks of 1936-1939, 1949-1953, and 1998-2000 illustrate this. That most recent streak contained Mariano Rivera, Andy Pettitte, Jorge Posada, Bernie Williams, Tino Martinez and Derek Jeter. Because they grew so close as a team and as a family, they were able to win back-to-back-to-back championships. The fact that the Yankees would even consider not re-signing Derek Jeter dumbfounded me. Derek Jeter is the perfect role model and, although it is cliché, he is the face of the Yankees. In short, he is family. Brian Cashman and Hal Steinbrenner should have realized this sooner.

A problem in sports is with owners and players losing sight of what is really important. LeBron should have realized that you win as a team and you lose as a team, and that team is your family. Sometimes you don’t get along with the dad or owner, and sometimes there are issues with your brothers or teammates. But all of that subsides to the special bond that is brought about by family. The bond between James, Bosh and Wade is not family; it’s money. Cashman and Steinbrenner should have realized the amount of fans who would have been devastated if they had seen the captain Derek Jeter in another uniform. Sometimes a season doesn’t go as well as planned, but for a family, this fault should be easily forgiven. I am relieved that Derek Jeter was re-signed, and I hope that Dan Gilbert is right in his promise to the Cleveland fans. Because, in the end, there’s nothing like the family.


Alex Coccia is a freshman. He can be contacted at [email protected]

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.