Welcome to the world of professional sports, Oklahoma.
Sure, the Thunder has been a fixture in the state for nearly five years now, but last week Oklahoma’s lone major league franchise experienced something few local fans are familiar with: the loss of a beloved player.
The trade of James Harden to the Houston Rockets was nothing short of shocking. In moving last year’s NBA Sixth Man of the Year, Thunder GM Sam Presti essentially traded the face of the Thunder organization. Granted, Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook account for a great deal of the Thunder’s success, but Harden was the player nearly everybody identified best with; a blue-collar type with a personality and look that fans could not be impervious to.
Now that Harden is gone, there are mixed feelings among the community of Thunder fans.
This is new for Oklahoma. In a state heavy with followers of college athletics, the idea of a player being here one day and gone the next is a new concept. If any type of fan knew how to avoid attachment disorders, it would be a college sports fan, but for Oklahoma sports fans, this is all too different.
Within hours of Harden’s trade, the public began criticizing the former Thunder guard. Photos of children dressed like Harden circulated though social media, each one possessing some sort of derogatory reference to Harden’s implied greed. One particular photo showed a young boy donning a false beard and shirt that had been altered to read “Dis-Respect the beard.”
What few fail to realize, however, is that basketball is James Harden’s job. While the notion of players making sacrifices to remain in the city that loves them is warm and fuzzy, it doesn’t always make the most business sense. Like thousands of other professional athletes, the rest of Harden’s life relies on him accruing a career’s worth of money in a relatively short time. While the average person has somewhere in the neighborhood of 40 years to accumulate a retirement fund while managing their daily expenses, athletes like Harden have, on average, ten years to make their money. Who could blame Harden, or any other athlete, for taking the best offer on the proverbial table?
Think a construction worker wouldn’t uproot his entire family for a 20 percent raise? Think again.
Believe a surgeon would pass on an opportunity to relocate and double his income because his patients love him so much? Of course not.
Athletes are people too. They’re wired like everyone else and have one thought: acquire as much as I can for what I do.
And that is exactly what James Harden did.
It’s been long noted that professional sports are a business. In college sports, athletes often commit four years to a single institution and , if they’re luck, move on to something bigger. There’s no anger, jealously or bitterness among college fans. After all, once a collegiate athlete’s four years is up, he moves into a different universe—not onto a rival’s roster.
With Harden, Oklahoma City fans have to live with the idea that someone who was once their own is now an enemy; a traitor of sorts. He’s still looking to win an NBA title, just not for Oklahoma City. And that stings a bit.
It’s a rough business. Welcome to the big leagues, OKC.