Celtics Show the Cruel Business Nature of Sports
Sports has, and always will be, a business. This should come as no surprise for Boston sports fans. If we hit the way-back machine, the Boston Red Soxs sold Babe Ruth in 1920 for $120,000 to the rival New York Yankees in a move that became known as “The Curse of the Bambino.” Ruth had great success and rose to stardom in Boston. But Ruth was demanding more money and threatened to sit out if he was not paid, which triggered the sale. Cash in while you still can.
Nearly 100 years later, we move to present day Boston and a similar issue arose. Isaiah Thomas had a breakout campaign for the Boston Celtics last season and was set to become a free agent after this upcoming season, where he was expected to ask for a max contract. What to do? In Boston, Thomas is wildly popular and it is not hard to see why. He was the final pick in the 2011 draft - oddly the same draft where Kyrie went first overall - and he has used that as a chip on his shoulder. Motivation to show his worth in the NBA. He plays an exciting offensive game and is an electric scorer. And the man plays through everything. On the eve of their first playoff game against the Chicago Bulls last season, Thomas’ sister, Chyna, died in a car accident. This tragic event, however, did not keep Thomas off the court. He somehow mustered the courage and strength to play a game, even though he had his doubts:
“When I found out the news, I wanted to give up and quit. Never in my life have I thought about quitting. I realized quitting isn’t an option. That’s the easy way out. I will keep going for my sister because I know she wouldn’t want me to stop. I love you, Chyna, and I miss you so much, and everything I do for the rest of my life will be for you.”
Powerful words, but they speak to the true nature of Thomas. A no-excuse type of player who leaves everything on the court. Incredibly, he played through this ordeal until his hip, which was an issue all season, finally forced him off the court. But his grit and determination to win and play for the city of Boston was on full display.
Then Kyrie Irving announced he wanted to be traded and the Celtics jumped on that move, sending Isaiah Thomas to Cleveland in one of the coldest trades in recent memory. In exchange for Irving, the Celtics sent over Jae Crowder, Ante Zizic,Brooklyn’s 2018 first round pick, and Miami’s 2020 second round pick. A blockbuster deal between the two best teams in the east.
It was a trade that sent shock waves across the league when it happened and a lot is being said about how this was a win/win trade for both teams. The Celtics are now more geared for the future, as they do not have to worry about possibly paying Isaiah. For the Cavs, they were able to get rid a player who did not want to be on the team and got a good amount in return. But what this trade ultimately goes to show you is that there is no loyalty in sports. First with Kyrie asking out, followed by Boston’s willingness to trade their best player. A player who laid everything out for his Celtics, even jeopardizing his future for the short term gain of playoff wins. And what did he get in return? He got shipped to Cleveland. Thanks for the memories, IT.
Boston had concerns about his playing style and ailing hip. And Thomas’ contract was coming up after the season and he would have demanded a big contract. If it got to that point and the Celtics did not pay him and let him walk, they look like the bad guys who did not pay a player who bled green. And letting him walk for nothing is risky when he is still an asset, albeit an injured one.
The way the Celtics handled this situation reminded me of how European soccer owners run their clubs. I do not think there is any better example of sports being a business than the big soccer leagues in Europe. Selling players at their peak is what they do. And if a big player is coming up on a contract year, that player is either locked up or sent to a club that locks him up. Rarely is a player let go on a free transfer. And for the smaller clubs, their main reason for even existing is to scout good, young talent and eventually sell the player to a bigger club and turn a profit. Sports is a business and losing an asset for nothing is unacceptable. Danny Ainge, the general manager of the Celtics, wholly believes in the concept of controlling assets. And he even traded his final Nets pick before it had the chance to lose value this upcoming season. Whereas in seasons past the Nets pick was a near lock for a top five spot, this year the odds of it becoming a lower pick increased, as the Nets made some half-decent moves this offseason. Peak Ainge strikes again.
But make no mistake, it is not as though Ainge dumped Thomas on some bottom-feeder, so at least there’s that. Ainge sent him to the best team in the East and he arguably made the Cavs better for this season. Crowder is a solid role player and Zizic has promise. And the Cavs can even shop that first round pick to add another piece and gear up for another title run. One more shot at the Golden State Warriors before LeBron James packs up and leaves next summer for the Los Angeles Lakers and the Cavs go full rebuild mode.
The NBA season’s first game has the Celtics visiting the Cavs in what I am sure will be an exciting night. Obviously Kyrie returning to Cleveland to a chorus of boos will be fun, but unfortunately, Thomas will not be there to show Boston what they are missing. He is going to be out for a while with that hip injury. But there will come a time when he has the opportunity to play his old team, but until then, let me just leave you with an exchange Thomas shared in his Players’ Tribune article. And oddly enough, it was an exchange via text message with Tom Brady, another late draft pick who played with a chip on his shoulder:
Brady: What’s up, IT, I heard about the news. You good?
Thomas: I’m alright. I mean, it’s crazy. It’s a cold game.
Brady: Yes it is. Best of luck. You’re gonna do great. Keep in touch.
Here’s to hoping for a speedy recovery for Thomas, because sports needs guys like him around.