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By Matt Overing
Germany won the World Cup over the weekend. It was the first time a European country won the World Cup in South America.
And it wasn’t the biggest American sports story over the weekend.
That title would belong to LeBron James and his “Decision 2.0.” He penned a letter to Sports Illustrated senior writer Lee Jenkins, and on Friday, the news went public.
For the second time in four years, James’ decision had the NBA on edge. Time didn’t stop, but it slowed to a crawl. Cleveland fans drove to James’ house and waited – even though he was in Las Vegas, hosting the LeBron James Skills Academy for high school and college basketball players. NBA fans furiously refreshed Twitter feeds, waiting on the latest news.
But this time around, there was no press conference on ESPN. There were no Cleveland fans burning his jersey in the streets, no angry owner writing a scalding letter promising championships to a championship-less community.
Instead, it was all business. James even said so in his letter to Sports Illustrated:
“I’m not having a press conference or a party. After this, it’s time to get to work.”
In America, the love for superstars seems to overshadow allegiance to any team. There are still a significant number of fans that grew up loving a team and still do. I’d venture a guess that those numbers are falling in the professional ranks. College sports might be different, as it’s easier to affiliate yourself with an alma mater. Even still, players transfer. Star college basketball players will rarely stay in school more than two years.
Today, I’d make the argument that more and more sports fans are beginning to associate themselves with a particular athlete and less with a specific team. The athletes aren’t tied to a specific team, so why should the fans?
Granted, this is different for college sports and college fans. College players are there because they like what the college offered: Things like academics, facilities, coaching, fans and location. These are the same things that draw fans to the programs.
James left Cleveland and went to Miami, and his fans followed, even though Cleveland fans are different than Miami fans. Location and coaches changed. He’s going back to Cleveland, and his fans will follow. If he went to Phoenix, fans would flock to watch him play. They aren’t watching for the Phoenix Suns. They’re watching for LeBron James.
Americans have a fascination with athletes, and for good reason. But the more superstar athletes switch teams, the clearer the picture becomes: America is starting to care more about the name on the back of the jersey than the name on the front.