Heroes. We all have them. Or at least one. They may not have been the biggest or the fastest or the smartest but they are our heroes. They gave us a standard to strive for and helped us become the person that we are. They’re not perfect, not by any stretch of the imagination, but it was their imperfections that made their lasting impact even more incredible. We cannot place enough sincerity in the gratitude we hold for them. They left a legacy. A way that we will always have them because they are a part of us.
As sports fans, we know a little about this idea of heroes. We watch men and women, who are better at these physical activities than most of us ever will be, and we idolize them. We acknowledge their focus, brilliance, gravitas, and movements. We admire their statistics, recount that one moment we will never forget, and draw incomprehensible importance from every action they make. We see the best in our sports heroes. Maybe deep down, we all want something unattainable to look upon with awe. Maybe, we all want something that we can’t quite figure out, but at the same time, seems somehow within reach. They left a legacy.
As a Lakers and Yankees fan, most people don’t like talking about sports with me. Being a fan of big-market juggernauts with championship pedigrees doesn’t bode well for a conversation with fans of small-market teams that are striving for just a shot at the playoffs. So imagine the emotions swirling when two stalwarts of separate small-market teams, in two different sports, were traded away to my teams. Um…sorry?
The Phoenix Suns traded away the face of their franchise, 38-year-old future Hall-of-Fame point guard Steve Nash, to the Los Angeles Lakers. A few weeks later, the Seattle Mariners traded away the face of their franchise, 38-year-old future Hall-of-Fame outfielder Ichiro Suzuki, to the New York Yankees. You see a pattern here? Small-market to big-market? Future Hall-of-Famer? Filling a need of the championship team? 38-year-olds?
Steve Nash’s career numbers are, for a lack of a better word, amazing. As of right now, Nash has the 2nd-best free throw percentage in NBA history, 8th-best three-point shooting percentage, and is top ten in league history in total assists and assists per game. Nash was a consummate professional, stuck by the floundering franchise that drafted him and even took less money so the franchise could go after better talent. At Nash’s request, he was traded to a contender in his conference so he could have a better chance at a NBA ring. Any way you look at it, Nash left a legacy with his team.
Ichiro Suzuki’s career numbers are just as incredible. He holds the single-season hits record in MLB history with 262 hits, had 10 consecutive seasons 200 hits, 10 consecutive Gold Gloves, 10 consecutive All-Star appearances, and got to 1,000 hits the fastest of anyone in MLB history. Suzuki was a consummate professional, stuck by the floundering franchise that drafted him and even took less money so the franchise could go after better talent. At Suzuki’s request, he was traded to a contender in his league so he could have a better chance at a World Series championship. Any way you look at it, Suzuki left a legacy with his team.
So almost identical player profiles, sports withstanding. Class acts all around. Legacies. Heroes. So…what happened? In both cases, reports surfaced that the franchises granted the players’ their wish because of services rendered. Is that idea so far-fetched? As sports fans, we come across “ring-chasers”: a category of players that seem to be at the end of their careers and are jumping on a bandwagon to the “promised land”. We belittle them for not being able to do it by themselves in some kind of playground bravado manner (See: James, Lebron). So…what happened? What if, like previously cited athlete, these two wanted to make a legacy for themselves that goes past Hall-of-Fame nice guy with a heart of gold? What happens when your heroes need to take the cape and cowl off?
Well, I hope that we still give them the respect they have earned and deserve. I hope that we can put aside the so-called rivalries we think exist outside of fans’ circles and appreciate a person’s ability to do what is best for themselves sometimes. In the world of sports, you have no greater gift than to give your years. So sometimes, Superman just wants to be Clark Kent for awhile and let other people save the day. Sometimes, I hope, as sports fans, we can respect that. And if some of you are like me, you looked at the news of these player movements and thought with a mix of sheer perplexity and absolute astonishment: so…that happened.