In Chicago, where Spectrem Group is based, there are two sports stories of significance playing out this week:
The Chicago Bulls are trying to woo Carmelo Anthony to come to the team now that he is a free agent, a situation that got a little more complicated when LeBron James opted out of his contract with the Miami Heat Tuesday.
The Chicago Blackhawks are in negotiations with their top two players that have led them to two Stanley Cup titles in the last four seasons – Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews.
These stories have significance beyond the Windy City because they involve professional athletes making choices and controlling their destinies, something that is taking place among all major league sports franchises these days. The question is whether that is good or bad, and who it might be good or bad for.
In 2009, Toews and Kane signed identical five-year $31.5 million contracts with the Blackhawks in a show of support for each other and belief in the Blackhawks. The Chicago Tribune reported on June 24 that the two are in constant communication with each other about signing (assumingly more lucrative) contract extensions at the same time again this summer in order to maintain the status of a franchise that has gone from a civic disappointment to a favored franchise since the initial contracts were signed.
There has not been a negative thing written about the two players who have linked their careers to each other and want to continue to do so. Although they are different in personality, they are alike in performance, and are local heroes in their adopted hometown.
“We don’t know what that process is going to entail exactly, but I think everyone knows we love Chicago and we understand how much we’ve been given by the organization and fans,’’ Toews told the Tribune. “We want to be there for as long as we possibly can be – hopefully our entire careers. That’s the priority right there.”
Skip back to the summer of 2010, when LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh engineered the deals that ended up with them playing together in Miami for four years, producing four straight NBA Finals appearances and two consecutive NBA titles.
Outside of Miami, everybody hated them for creating the super team. It didn’t help that James had his signing announcement presented as an hour-long show on ESPN, and that they came together in a bizarre smoke-filled announcement party in which James promised eight titles (in a way, kinda, sorta).
Of course, even when he was promising a seemingly endless run of NBA titles, James knew he could opt out of the contract after four years, which he did Tuesday. The run of NBA Finals appearances might be over if James takes his talents to some other beach.
Of course, he could be just engineering a new special announcement in which he and Carmelo Anthony engineer a way to end up on the same team, perhaps even Miami.
It was Anthony who complained his way off the Denver Nuggets the summer after the James-Wade-Bosh scenario, forced his way to the New York Knicks, which was his hometown team and the favored landing spot of his high-profile wife. Anthony could not produce a winner with the Knicks, in part because of what they gave up to get him, and now opted out of his contract to explore his options elsewhere.
What’s unique about Anthony’s situation is that if he signs with a team other than the Knicks, he will leave about $30 million available to him on the table, because the rules state the team he was with previously can sign him for an extra year and extra dollars than a new team can. If he stays with the Knicks, he will be perceived as a money-grubber, and if he leaves, he will be seen as a fool for letting $30 million slip away.
And he will be under huge pressure to turn his new team into a winner the way James transformed the Heat. But, unless he ends up with James and the Heat, it will be hard for Anthony to create a team anywhere that can compete with the Heat, assuming James returns there.
Then there is the thought James and Anthony could get together and find a place where they can create a second super team. It might even be in Miami, which would really upset fans of every other team in the NBA.
Free agency for professional athletes started in the 1960s when St. Louis Cardinals outfielder Curt Flood sued Major League Baseball to battle the reserve clause that made baseball players the undisputed property, to perpetuity, of the team that held their last contract.
Now the prisoners are running the asylum. They aren’t prisoners any more. They are free when their contracts run out, and they are able to tell teams when their contracts are going to run out.
I don’t know if we are better off.