A couple of months ago, I decided that I was going to watch Kobe Bryant’s last professional basketball game. That same night Golden State was vying for history as they searched for their 73rd win of the season. I love watching the Warriors play. They are just fun to watch. Still, I chose to watch Kobe play one last time. I don’t even like Kobe Bryant. I’ve never been a fan. And I’ve always disliked the Lakers (except when they were playing the Celtics… I HATE the Celtics). For whatever reason I chose to watch this historical game. Of course Kobe scored 60 points at age 52, or however old he is, but needed 95 shots to do so… He seemingly took EVERY SHOT in the second half for the Lakers. It must be noted that his teammates wanted it that way, so OK. I must admit as ridiculous as it seemed how often he put the ball up, at the end of the game he got red hot, and yes, singlehandedly brought the Lakers back to victory against a team that barely missed the playoffs (they were eliminated moments before the game). Those last 3 minutes were incredible, and for once I enjoyed watching him play.
As I mentioned I never liked Kobe. I’m not going to get into why now, because believe it or not, this blog is not about him. More on that later. There was one thing that I did admire about the man. He stayed in one team for his entire career, and the night was special for the fans because every moment he gave, up until that 60th point, and his game clinching assist (yes he passed the ball at the END of the game!) were for those fans, and no one else. For whatever reason he stayed on this one team, remaining loyal to them throughout. Sure he threatened to leave on a couple of occasions. But he never did. A Laker through and through, beginning to end.
That night, this one fact stuck wi me, and I did a little research. I needed to know how many players currently playing had stuck with their team for the entirety of their career, and to be fair each had to have played with this one team for a minimum of 10 years. Of course Kobe reached 20 years as a Laker. No other current player had played that long for one team. But as I sifted through all 30 teams, I had trouble finding players who met that criteria. In fact, during the 2015-16 season only 8 players did. EIGHT! In the entire league! That seemed crazy to me. What really got me was that 5 of those 8 played for a mere 2 of those teams. Who were the eight? Well, here they are:
Kobe with the Lakers; Nick Collison with the Thunder; Dirk Novitsky with the Mavericks; Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, and Manu Ginobli with the San Antonio Spurs;
The last two? Udonis Haslem and Dwyane Wade with the Miami Heat… My hometown Heat.
Does anyone see a pattern there? Loyalty seems to breed Champions. Kobe won 5 with the Lakers, the Spurs won 4 as a trio (Timmy won a 5th without the other two), Wade and Haslem won 3 together. Dirk won once, going to the finals twice. Even perpetual reserve Collison reached the NBA finals. Maybe it’s a coincidence, but I think not. These guys stuck with their teams and they won.
As the year came to an end, I realized that the number would now be 7. I honestly believed that all 7 of these guys would finish their careers with their respective teams. They’d done so much for their teams and gained the love and admiration of their fan bases. To many fans these guys were FAMILY for all intents and purposes. But then something changed this year. One of these guys decided to move on, and unfortunately, it was none other than our own Wade.
Wade had sacrificed plenty to be a champion, and to always help improve this team. Not once during his career was he the top paid player on the team, even though it can be argued that he was the Heat’s best player on at least 8 of those 13 years (excluding his rookie year, and the Lebron years… Some may also include year two when Shaq was still Shaq, one year before they won their first title). Some would argue he was the most important player on the team all 13 years, and they’d have a pretty good case to prove that. So it can be argued that maybe it was time that DWade finally got paid. Others may argue that being past his prime, he should simply be happy to get the 20 mil a year they were offering him for the next two years. I’m not here to argue either point. I simply would have liked for him to end his career here, period. Now that won’t happen. And that saddens me, he could have been one of the last of a dying breed – the guy who started and finished his whole career with one team.
Now, the truth is he is going home to play for the team he grew up watching and rooting for as a child. This was the team he dreamed of playing for as he grew up. So maybe he was just fulfilling a lifelong dream? And why not now, while he could still make a difference. His best friends both play where they grew up. Lebron is in Cleveland, close to where he was born and raised, and returned home to bring them a championship. And he made good on his promise. Carmelo is playing in New York City, where he was born and raised. Why shouldn’t DW get a chance to do the same? I don’t know if that’s his motivation, but if it was, can you blame him?
Well then, why don’t the other 6 guys go and play for their hometowns then? Why are they sticking it out? Let’s see, why don’t we. The Spurs trio were all born outside the Continental US. Ginobli is from Argentina, Parker is French, and Duncan is from the Vigin Islands. No NBA teams there. Novitsky is German. No NBA teams in Germany. Collison is from Iowa. Might as well be Germany. There are no PROFESSIONAL teams there. Just a Field of Dreams. That leaves us with Kobe and Udonis. Well, Kobe was also born in Germany, into a military family. So there you go! And UD? Well, he’s been playing for his hometown his entire career! That’s all he’s done! So these guys allegiance is strictly for their team. Home doesn’t give them that option. DWade had that option. And it is a viable one.
Just today, Ginobli resigned with the Spurs. It really does appear that those 3 guys are going to finish their careers there. And there are a couple of other guys on that team that may follow that rout. The San Antonio Spurs are just a special organization. They’ve been my second favorite team since right around the time Duncan got drafted to join the Admiral David Robinson (another lifer) to bring them their first title. Novitsky doesn’t appear to be going anywhere but who knows. As far as UD and Collison, I can’t see a reason why they wouldn’t just finish their careers where they are. Then again UD is a free agent. And his Captain just walked. Would he be willing to do the same? I really hope not. If there is one other guy that is all Heat, Heat lifer, as they say, it’s Haslem.
i honestly don’t think we’ve seen the last of Wade. I’m hoping he’s satisfied with his two years in Chi-Town and returns to Miami to retire as a Heat, and do his own little farewell tour before his admiring fans. Farewell tours are only done for players who were the heart of souls of their teams for years. It wouldn’t happen in Chicago. It happened for Kobe in LA. In baseball we saw it happen with both Mariano Rivera and Derek Jeter th the Yankees, the only team they ever played for. It happened with Chipper Jones and his Braves. It happened with Ripken and Gwynn in the same year. This year it’s happening with Big Papi, who didn’t always play for the Red Sox, but who remembers him in Minnesota? (I do, but that doesn’t count) He’s been the heart and soul of the Sox for over a decade.
Just as DWade was the heart and soul of the Heat for 13 years. Best of luck in Chicago. But I really hope you find your way back here for one last hurrah, with the only team you’ve ever known until now.