NBA players seem salty about how Isaiah Thomas was treated by the Boston Celtics and their fans, which is really just them wanting both sides of the loyalty coin to favor players and not the teams.
Besides, they’re debating each other about something that’s not even based in reality.
LeBron James called out the two people who filmed themselves burning Thomas jerseys following the trade that sent Thomas to the Cleveland Cavaliers in exchange for Kyrie Irving, as if those two people reflected how a consensus of Celtics fans felt about the 5-foot-9 two-time All-Star. When, in truth:
— Couch Guy Sports (@CouchGuySports) August 24, 2017
When news of the deal broke first broke, Thomas’ former Celtics teammate Evan Turner immediately tweeted, “My guy I.T. deserves better. I understand it’s a business, but that dude did a lot for the organization.” Two-time NBA champ turned Turner Sports broadcaster Kenny Smith concurred, saying on NBA TV, “I hate the fact that you would trade a guy who played two days after his sister died.”
Then came retired two-time All-Star Caron Butler’s Instagram post: “Celtics traded a guy who played in a game for them a day after his sister died, but y’all expect players to be loyal to the franchise, sure.”
Which led to this back and forth between Butler and ex-Celtics guard Ray Allen in the comments:
Butler: “Isaiah Thomas, much love my brother. I got traded before. It was painful. Players leave for a different team, they’re disloyal. A Judas. Teams trade a player who gave his heart and soul to the city and team, it’s called business. Hmmm. Does that make sense? The best way to deal with this business is to not have any expectations from anyone but yourself.”
Allen: “I immediately thought the same thing. Why is it that we are disloyal for going to a team we feel will be best for us but there is no outrage towards the teams that trade us? Fans kill us, but when a team does it, it’s just business. Shaking my head.
“I expect every Celtics fan to be pissed off at the organization because they showed that they were disloyal to Isaiah. They traded him to your rival. The team you guys played in the conference finals. Oh, wait, now it’s just a business.”
Finally, Thomas weighed in with his “100” percent approval of Butler’s commentary:
All of this seems either rooted in the fact two people filmed themselves burning Thomas jerseys — one of whom may have been joking and has since deleted the post and another whose mother can be heard repeatedly saying in the background, “We love you, Isaiah.” Most everybody else’s reaction fell into one of two categories: 1) Oh, man, I can’t believe they traded Isaiah Thomas. I loved that dude. Or 2) We owe a debt of gratitude to Isaiah Thomas, because without him, we wouldn’t have Kyrie Irving.
Nobody is saying, Well, I know he played for the Celtics a day after his sister died, but, man, f*** that guy. Instead, 99.999999999999999 percent of people in Boston are thinking something along the lines of, Thanks for giving your heart and soul to Boston, we appreciate that you shared the same passion for the Celtics and gave us those memories through your own heartache, but our alliances are aligned with geography, and while we wish you the best going forward, we still hope the Celtics beat the Cavs.
That’s it. That should be the extent of it.
Complicating matters was a Chris Broussard report that four non-Celtics executives told him “a lot of the players in Boston really weren’t that fond of Isaiah,” which teammate after teammate after teammate refuted. This got people more riled up, figuring not only were Celtics fans trashing Thomas on his way out the door, but the front office was following suit, when neither are true in the slightest.
We know Allen has fostered some bitterness about how we was treated by Celtics fans, players and even coaches after leaving the organization for the rival Miami Heat in 2012, because he recently spent his birthday arguing with Boston fans on Instagram and telling them, “Y’all need to get over it.”
Boston was pissed when Allen left the Celtics for the team they just lost to in the conference finals, especially because he turned down a better financial offer from Boston. The Thomas situation is different. Anyone who equates two people filming themselves burning a No. 4 jersey with the fan reaction when Allen left is missing the point, and it would be a shame if Thomas is one of them.
This is five years after the fact, and we’re learning now that a lot of players agree with Allen. Kevin Durant didn’t “get” why Oklahoma City Thunder fans turned on him when he joined the Golden State Warriors, and James’ recent reaction to burnt jerseys sounded like pent-up resentment from when Cleveland Cavaliers fans did the same after he spurned them for the Heat on national TV in 2010.
“Players within the league felt like Isaiah Thomas was done wrong,” ESPN’s Chris Haynes reported on SportsCenter. “He was the man. When management and ownership asked Isaiah to go out and recruit such and such, he did it. He went out there and tried to improve the roster. He did everything that was asked of him to try to improve the Boston Celtics, and then to out of the blue be involved in a trade … it just rubbed players the wrong way. So, you take it from that standpoint, then what’s being done by the fans, it’s just a low blow.”
What are the players talking about here? “What’s being done by the fans”? What’s being done by the fans is widespread debate about whether trading Thomas along with Jae Crowder, Ante Zizic and an unprotected first-round pick was wise. Because two people filmed themselves burning jerseys in an attempt to go viral, suddenly an entire fan base is being blamed for doing Thomas dirty? Strange.
For the record, Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge has been nothing but respectful since. He issued a heartfelt statement after the trade: “Isaiah embodied what it meant to be a Celtic. He captured fans’ hearts not only with his spirit, but his personality.” He added on a conference call:
“Isaiah had just an amazing season this year, and entertained us all — the whole city of Boston, and everybody fell in love with him. You know, he’s such an underdog because of his size, and his heart, and his spirit in which he plays. It was very challenging to make this decision.”
Ainge also endorsed a CSNNE video entitled, “Celtics owe ‘huge debt of gratitude to Isaiah Thomas.’” And here’s how Celtics coach Brad Stevens reacted when someone asked why Thomas was traded:
Young kid asks Brad Stevens why he traded Isaiah Thomas. Brad's response… pic.twitter.com/4RnhNMOhbx
— Chris Forsberg (@ESPNForsberg) August 25, 2017
It’s as if the players are expecting all fans to act rationally and sensibly when their favorite players are no longer on their favorite team. This is not how fandom works. Some fans are incredibly dumb and filled with blind rage. If you’ve ever read a YouTube comment section, you would know this.
As for the organization doing Thomas “wrong,” the players seem to think they shouldn’t be traded so long as they’ve done right by their teams, as if the ultimate goal for any franchise isn’t to improve their roster. As Haynes added, “I think most people will say Kyrie probably overall is a better player.”
It sure sounds like players want to be able to leave in free agency and not be able to be traded, all with no reaction from fans. They want their cake and to eat it, too, because they’re the ones providing the entertainment, after all. Of course, this ignores the fact that teams play a vital role in packaging that entertainment for fans, whose attendance, eyeballs on TV and jersey-purchasing allow for it all.
It is a business. Players can leave their teams in free agency to better their situation, and teams can trade their players to better theirs. Let’s not forget Thomas has spent the past two summers telling the Celtics how much money they will have to pay to keep him, even ordering some custom-made Brink’s truck sandals, so he seems to understand all this, as does his father, via The Boston Globe:
— Adam Himmelsbach (@AdamHimmelsbach) August 25, 2017
What’s being ignored here are the fans — at least all but the two who filmed themselves burning jerseys — and they can do whatever they damn well please. Players and teams can make decisions based on their own needs and desires, and so too can a fan who doesn’t want to pay for a Celtics ticket anymore or, however moronically, wants to burn a jersey because Thomas is no longer there.
Did Boston do Thomas wrong? No more than Durant did OKC dirty. And fans felt the brunt of both.
Teams may say, “It’s a business,” when they trade players, and players may say the same when they leave in free agency, but what the players don’t seem to grasp is that fans rarely, if ever, consider the business side first. Fans get upset at teams for trading away good players, and they get upset at good players for leaving their teams, both for the same reason: They want their teams to be good. If they do consider the business side of it, they figure they’re the ones paying, so who’s to tell them how to feel.
Instead, players seem to want a fan’s loyalty to lie only with them. They want fans to be upset at teams for trading them and happy for them if they leave in free agency. That’s not how sports operate.
You want Boston fans to start rooting for Cleveland because Thomas is traded to the Cavs or signs with them in free agency? Nope and nope. The players’ argument should be with teams, and even then both sides now seem to recognize it’s just business. Players may get pissed when they’re traded, and teams may get pissed when players leave in free agency, but at least both have some say in the deal.
Instead, these players are focusing on fans who get angry when they leave, as if everybody should take their side. The fans, meanwhile, are watching the drama unfold, and paying the price for it all.
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