Fickle Nature of Free Agent Relationships
While discussing Ray Allen and his forthcoming free agency during the Boston Celtics romp of the Orlando Magic in game six of the Eastern Conference Finals, my sister asked, “Why should someone take a hometown discount for being loyal?”
Normally, when someone tries to humanize athletes and their contract situations I ignore it, because these aren’t real world scenarios. But then I began to process the question.
The fact that the phrase ‘hometown discount’ exists implies that the game is all about money. It is saying that instead of making more money elsewhere, which the athlete is apparently expected to do, he will take less money to stay with his teammates, with the fans, or with a winning formula. This is considered charitable by the athlete because the expectation is that the highest bidder gets his services.
We like to believe that athletes care about more than just money. Every year in one sport or another, I get attached to the “will they, wont they?” drama of an expiring contract and humanize that athlete by saying, “He likes it here too much," "his family has settled here," "those guys are best friends, or "the fans love him, he’s definitely not leaving.”
These thoughts ignore millions of other reasons. The fact that a hometown discount is looked at as a sacrifice just drives the point home: for most, its about the money.
Ray Allen and Paul Pierce (player options) could stay in Boston and do any of the following; get paid less, keep their families close to Boston hospitals (Allen’s son Walker has diabetes and Pierce has a surgery wing with his name on it at Tufts Medical Center), stay with a successful core, help Rajon Rondo and Kendrick Perkins grow, and retire Celtics legends. Seems like more than enough reason to stick around to me, but I live paycheck to paycheck and have never had my relationships brokered by lawyers.
What if sports relationships started to be more like real-world human relationships? This is what my sister was asking when she put feelings into contract negotiations. Contracts would be signed based on loyalty, commitment, camaraderie and even gut-feelings. Maybe what your mother thinks about the team would sway your decision. Certainly, a team’s slutty history would have to be considered because you don’t want to be burned like the last guy. It would be a different world of athletics. But instead, we seem to have money guiding the way.