Not so Happy Homecomings

For some people, the thought of NBA free agency brings a feeling of excitement and anticipation to see what major moves their team will be making. For others, the thought of NBA free agency brings a feeling of nervousness and anxiety with the possibility of their team’s star(s) leaving to join forces elsewhere. NBA free agency is one of the hottest topics in sports media when the time comes around because players have the ability to change the expectations or predictions for the upcoming season with their decisions. In the last decade, there have been several “betrayals” during NBA free agency that left fans in an uproar.

When an NBA star decides to sign elsewhere, fans cope in many ways, some more respectful than others. There have been three major “betrayals” in the past decade which I’ll discuss: Rajon Rondo, Kevin Durant, and LeBron James.

Rajon Rondo

Rajon Rondo, who currently plays for the Chicago Bulls, began his career and made a name for himself with the Boston Celtics. While with the Celtics, from 2006–2014, Rondo won a championship in 2008 and was loved by Boston fans. He was known for his hustle, pest-like defense and ability to dish the basketball to teammates Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett. In 2014 Rondo was traded to the Dallas Mavericks where he was expected to help the Mavs turn things around, however was less than stellar in his 46 games played there. Multiple injuries and team-related conflicts led Rondo to sign with the Sacramento Kings the following year, leaving the Mavs and their fans while on bad terms.

When asked about his return to Dallas to play against them Rondo stated

I expect a standing ovation. Hopefully it doesn’t go the other way, but it won’t affect me either way.

What followed was the exact opposite, Rondo was booed every time he touched the ball or his name was mentioned. Of the three “betrayals”, Rondo’s is the least surprising due to his inability to get along with the Mavs coaching staff.

Kevin Durant

Kevin Durant began his career with the Seattle Supersonics in 2007 and continued with the team after their move to Oklahoma City and their switch to the Thunder. While with the Supersonics/Thunder, Durant collected several accolades including multiple All-Star game selections, All-Star game MVP, NBA Rookie of the Year, NBA scoring champion, and NBA Most Valuable Player. During these well decorated years, Durant led the Thunder through multiple deep playoff runs including one trip to the NBA finals in which they lost to the Miami Heat. The Thunder also made it to several Western Conference Finals, the most notorious being their 2015–2016 matchup against the Golden State Warriors where they led the series 3–1 but ended up losing in 7 games.

Following their loss in the Western Conference Finals, there was a lot of speculation surrounding Durant and where he would end up following free agency. Ultimately, Durant broke the hearts of Oklahomans and signed with the team that just beat him, the Golden State Warriors. Fans, analysts and NBA players were extremely outspoken about their feelings towards this decision.

Stephen A Smith was highly critical of Durant and stated

“I’m viewing it as the weakest move I’ve ever seen from a superstar.”

Paul Pierce also chimed in on Twitter, tweeting “If u can’t beat um join um”. Fans expressed their anger by burning Kevin Durant jerseys and insulting him on social media.

Angry fans and former teammates built an incredible amount of hype leading up to Durant’s return to Oklahoma City. Fans created t-shirts and signs mocking Durant, many depicting him as cupcake (for taking what was seen as the easy route). Another t-shirt read KowarD. Like Rondo’s return to the Dallas, Durant was booed whenever his name was announced as well as each time he touched the ball. Durant also got into verbal altercations on the court with former teammates Russell Westbrook and André Roberson. Postgame when asked about the atmosphere Durant said “I actually thought it would be a little louder, but it was fun. I was on the other side of it, to become one of these guys now where they boo you it’s kind of fun. I’ve got to embrace it, that’s all I can do,”

LeBron James

LeBron James, who grew up in Akron, Ohio, was drafted by the Cleveland Cavaliers with the first overall pick in the 2003 NBA draft. James had an unbelievable amount of hype anticipating his entrance to the NBA and was even dubbed “The Chosen One” on the cover of Sports Illustrated as a high school junior. Being from Akron, LeBron was seen as Cleveland’s hometown hero. With the Cavaliers, LeBron collected several accolades including NBA Rookie of the Year, several All-Star game selections, All-Star game MVP and a scoring title. James led the Cavaliers to several playoff appearances and even an NBA Finals appearance in which they lost to the San Antonio Spurs.

In 2010 as an unrestricted free agent, James appeared on a nationally televised special event titled The Decision where he announced that he would be “taking his talents to South Beach” to join the Miami Heat. Although the event raised money for charity, many slammed James for it calling it egotistical, arrogant and unprofessional. Fans responded by burning James’ jerseys while Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert published a letter that criticized James and promised a Cavaliers championship before James won one with the Miami Heat. James’ return to Cleveland while with Miami was highly anticipated all throughout the country, but especially here in Cleveland. Cleveland sports fans hold a passion that is indescribable and when James tore out their hearts, they didn’t hold back when it came to letting him know about it.

During his first return to Cleveland, James was booed throughout introductions and each time he touched the ball. The crowd in the arena also chanted several things attacking James such as “Akron hates you” and “Delonte” (following rumors that former teammate Delonte West had relations with James’ mother).

Signs from James’ homecoming game in 2010

James stated in a halftime interview “It’s all right, I understand how passionate the fans are. I’ve got a lot of love for these fans, but I’m a Miami Heat player now looking to get this win.” James embraced his role as the villain while with the Miami Heat and won two NBA championships while there. Ultimately, James decided to come back to Cleveland in 2014 and won Cleveland that championship that he promised against the Golden State Warriors in 2016.

NBA free agency brings out the extreme passion that fans have for their cities and teams. It gives players the ability to chase their dreams at winning a championship, whether that be for their current team or somewhere else. Over the past decade players like Rajon Rondo, Kevin Durant and LeBron James provided sports media with plenty of entertainment and topics to talk about after their “betrayals” during free agency. Let’s hope that the next decade is just as entertaining.