I am a self-proclaimed hater. I came to this epiphany with about one minute left in Game 5 of this year’s NBA Finals when I found myself on one knee praying to God that Anthony Davis didn’t hit the championship-clinching shot. Before you call me a hater, one, I beat you to it, and two, my prayer wasn’t necessarily directed at Davis. My prayer was directed at the flawed mindset that he represents: the mindset that you have to change locations in order to succeed.
Admittedly, this mindset is valid in a lot of life situations.
Dangerous circumstances in your home country? Leaving is valid. No room to grow in your job or relationship? Leaving is valid. Don’t think your tuition matches your education? Fight On, and leaving is valid. But the belief that changing locations will bring success isn’t valid in terms of the subjects of this column, basketball and music. Had Davis hit the championship-clinching shot in Game 5, the mindset would’ve been validated at the highest level.
The mindset most notably started with Davis’s teammate LeBron James leaving the Cleveland Cavaliers for the Miami Heat in 2010. Following that one reasonable free agent decision, a parasitic mentality spawned in the minds of every young NBA star: If my team isn’t winning championships, my legacy is being tarnished, and I should join a team where a championship is easier to win.
That mindset is flawed for a few reasons. First, it costs small market teams the opportunity to compete with some of the best players and rosters they will ever have. Just look at the Orlando Magic since Dwight Howard forced his way to the Lakers in 2012; the Magic have had six different head coaches and won more than half their games just once.
Second, the players worried about their legacy aren’t LeBron James. James has been constantly pitted against the all-time greats since he was a teenager. His ring count matters. It’s the first topic on sports debate shows. It causes grown men to scream to the point of tears in barbershops. No sports show or barbershop is critiquing the legacies of players like Dwight Howard based on championship count.
Third, and most importantly, success isn’t guaranteed upon departure. In fact, it’s highly unlikely.
Of the dozen or so star players to switch teams in the post-Decision NBA, how many have actually seen their move result in a championship? Not counting James (or Davis as of Sunday night), there have been two: Kevin Durant and Kawhi Leonard, and they both had to join teams that finished first in their conferences the year before they arrived. Stars like Chris Paul, Carmelo Anthony, Howard, Paul George and Kyrie Irving have unsuccessfully employed this mentality on multiple occasions yet young stars continue to follow in their footsteps.
I would love to see a healthy Victor Oladipo lead the Indiana Pacers to contention for the next five years, but reports are already circulating that his time with the Pacers is almost done. Watching Devin Booker and the Phoenix Suns finally get it together was one of the top moments of the NBA bubble for me. Other fans want Booker competing for championships immediately, which has led to rumors swirling about his next destination. Speaking of rumors about next destinations, there’s probably a professional-level PhotoShop of Giannis Antetokounmpo in all 29 other NBA teams’ uniforms, despite the Milwaukee Bucks being one of the best teams in the league and Antetokounmpo in the prime of his career.
Even if players like Antetokounmpo, Booker and Oladipo only win one championship in their respective careers, imagine how much that one ring will mean for their respective franchises. Think about the last time you’ve seen Indiana, Milwaukee or Phoenix hang a championship banner. Unless you’re over 50 years old, you’ve never seen it, and without the Bucks’ 1971 title, no one of any age would have seen those franchises or 11 others as champions.
As frustrating as it is to see this mindset shape the careers of young NBA stars, it’s even more frustrating to see young artists fall victim to the same way of thought.
This doesn’t apply for artists that have connections and sessions waiting for them in a new city. In that instance, leaving is valid. But the mentality that an artist’s hometown doesn’t offer enough and going to a bigger city can help you suddenly blow up makes as much sense as a young basketball star ring chasing. If an artist like The Kid LAROI can become one of the hottest young rappers in the world out of Waterloo, Australia, an artist can make it from anywhere.
For starters, the internet exists. If an artist really wants to connect with another artist, a producer, an A&R or any other individual that can advance their career, they can probably form the connection in less than a handful of Instagram DMs. Branching out to another city when the people closest to you aren’t fully supportive yet is a questionable decision. If the people you grew up with don’t show love to your music, chances are a city of random people won’t either.
But aside from the logic of the decision, my reasoning, or plea, for young artists to stay home and young NBA stars to stick with their team is the same — the success will mean more. Whether it be a LeBron James “Cleveland, this is for you” moment or an Atlanta-esque musical takeover, seeing an overlooked area finally get some glory is one of the best elements of both basketball and music. If the mindset that success can only be achieved through leaving prevails, that special element will be lost.
Taj Mayfield is a junior writing about the connections between music and sports. His column, “808s & Fast Breaks,” runs every other Monday.