Why You Can't Stop Pro Athletes From Going Where They Want To Go

What Chris Paul has in common with Eli Manning and John Elway

By Drew Magary
|  Sunday, Dec 11, 2011  |  Updated 12:36 PM EDT
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Why You Can't Stop Pro Athletes From Going Where They Want To Go

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LOS ANGELES, CA - APRIL 26: Chris Paul #3 of the New Orleans Hornets drives on Derek Fisher #2 of the Los Angeles Lakers in Game Five of the Western Conference Quarterfinals in the 2011 NBA Playoffs on April 26, 2011 at Staples Center in Los Angeles, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

One of the funniest things about the baffling decision by NBA commissioner and future "Spy Kids" villain David Stern to veto the Chris Paul trade is that it will almost certainly HURT the competitive balance of the NBA. The New Orleans Hornets are now bound to end up getting either A) less than what the Lakers and Rockets were willing to give up, or B) nothing at all, with Paul walking at the end of the year. That Stern failed to see the eventual futility of that veto is perhaps the single most damning thing about his recent job performance, and that's saying a LOT.

Casual NBA fans (Cavs owner Dan Gilbert apparently among them) assumed that the new collective bargaining agreement struck between the NBA and its players was supposed to end this whole run of players forcing their teams to trade them to other, cooler teams. We American sports fans don't like it very much when players pull this sort of thing. It somehow offends our sense of loyalty, despite the fact that the majority of us are free to change jobs and cities as long as we give two weeks' notice. I don't know how we came to view sports in the exact inverse of how view our own professional lives, but I'm not about to try and figure it out.

What I do know is that Paul's desire to leave one team for another isn't the first time a pro athlete has forced a team's hand, and it won't be the last. You saw it last year in Denver with Carmelo Anthony. You saw it in baseball when Alex Rodriguez forced the Rangers to trade him to the Yankees. Even the NFL, our most despotic of sporting leagues, isn't immune to it. John Elway forced his way out of Baltimore. Eli Manning -- shy little Eli Manning! -- forced his way out of San Diego.

And you'll see it in sports again and again for the foreseeable future. As soon Dwight Howard picks a suitable new team for himself, he'll cease being a Magic (or a magician, or a magi, or whatever is the proper term for a single Magic player). And if the Colts decide to keep Peyton Manning around for the next couple years (unlikely), you could see Andrew Luck forcing their hand so he can play for someone else.

There's only so much a league can do to prevent this type of thing, and there's only so much they SHOULD do to prevent it. As long as there is free agency (and no right-thinking sports fan thinks we should go back to the pre-free agency stone age), there will be players who have leverage over their respective ball clubs and dare, DARE!, to take their talents elsewhere.

This destroys the whole illusion of team spirit and commitment to winning that pro sports leagues and sportswriters work mightily to maintain. But that illusion covers up the basic humanity of an American like Paul wanting what he considers to be a better situation for himself. Is there really anything wrong with Paul wanting to leave one place for another? NO. But because we live in a world where Coach K wins Sportsman of the Year for teaching "these kids" and Tim Tebow wins games thanks to magic church dust, this basic desire gets warped and twisted into something wrong, even unpatriotic.

Hopefully, the backlash to Stern's veto will help correct this, but I'm not terribly optimistic. Once someone like Howard or Luck "whine their way out" of a situation, you'll again see the Cowherds of the world rise up in phony outrage over players having too much control, as if people shouldn't have control over their own lives. Chris Paul should be a Laker if he has the leverage to make it happen. I assure you that any system that prevents such a thing will be a worse alternative.

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