Good post from Mark Kleiman:
But what does that obligation consist of, and how did James incur it? Did the team or the city do something in particular to help make him a star, such that his departure represents ingratitude? My understanding is that he did not choose the Cavs, but was assigned to that team in the draft. Surely, having been the victim of a conspiracy in restraint of trade, forced to negotiate with a monopsonist buyer of one’s talents, can’t create an obligation of loyalty to the monopsonist if, when the term of the indenture is up, another employer offers a more attractive deal?
As one of Mike’s commenters mentions, sports stars are the frequent targets of moralizing. It’s hard to separate this phenomenon from race and class: pro sports is one of the few very few ways of moving from the bottom income quintile to the top income percentile that won’t land you in prison, especially if you’re black or Latino. So sports stars attract some of the opprobruim traditionally directed at the parvenu in aristocratic societies: the “base-born counselors” around the King that are a traditional grievance of not only rebellious nobles but of commoners as well. Mocking the parvenu is one way of asserting that the underlying structure of inherited status is fundamentally sound.
Admittedly, the hour-long ESPN special counts as a non-classy manner of implementing the decision to go to Miami. But what Kleiman says in his second paragraph is relevant here, and the fact that the term chosen is “classy” is not a coincidence. Rich sports stars do, in fact, frequently fail to exhibit the social graces associated with high-status Americans as as their incomes exceed those of the vast majority of high-status Americans. But this is hardly the greatest moral failing in the world, and shouldn’t distract from the fact that the sports star labor force, though quite highly paid, is still fundamentally kept in a subordinate position to an ownership class that shouldn’t be allowed to create a presumption that workers have a moral obligation to do what their employers want even when their contract has expired.