From Ashy To Classy: How NBA fans are dealing with their favorite players leaving

Dan O'Shea

The casual NBA fan or fans who have teams that are staying quiet this season love the insanity that is this NBA offseason. We’ve seen stars shopped, shipped, and delivered like that newest koozie you just ordered off of Amazon Prime. The mayhem is certainly enjoyable, especially after that hibernation-inducing postseason fans just sat through. Caught in the midst of this firefight of free agents flying left and right are the fans. We’ve seen fans of the Grizzlies, Pacers, Bulls, Hawks, and Jazz lose their best or favorite player. While there’s nothing you can do to bring them back, how you respond to their departure will last forever. 

Look, we get it. Nobody likes losing the team’s best player. In most cases, you have to sit around and watch your team flounder about for years to come because the team’s top dog no longer wanted to be around. No matter how good you were the season before, whether you won 50 games or 40 games, you know for a fact you’re taking a step backwards. That forced setback for the foreseeable future gives fans two paths.

Path A: You appreciate what the player has done.

The past few years of success could not have been possible if it wasn’t for him. You send him off with a “thank you,” and then turn your attention to your disheveled roster or whatever vice you plan on using to cope with your recent traumatic loss.

Or…

Path B: You riot.

You return back to the roots you learned when you were a toddler and just found out there was no way your mom was letting you get that same video game Billy from your class got, so you threw a temper tantrum. Only now, you’re an adult and for some reason you’re allowed to go on social media and can access fire. Not an All Star combo there, but at least you can vent your frustrations that this traitorous player caused.

Rhyme, reason, and righteousness would all point to the first path, but the sad truth is, not every human being is strapped with the three Rs. This offseason we saw some good, a little bit of bad, and definitely some ugly. There are obviously different scenarios for each team, like the possibility of actually keeping the player or the expectations heading into next season. Still, it’s never a reason to take out that handy lighter sitting in your drawer.

 


Take Paul Millsap for example. Millsap, like the majority of the other players, left with classy words even though they may have left some bitter fans behind who still wanted them around. Even though Millsap was clearly the best player on the team, fans realized the Hawks were stacking dynamite under the Philips Arena and were ready to blow this sucker up once they failed to even offer their centerpiece a contract.

 

That’s a simple case of “no harm, no foul.” Millsap gave Hawks fans everything he had during his tenure as a Hawk. He was an All-Star each and every season he was on the team, acted as a professional the entire time, and helped bring this team to the postseason four straight years. It was pretty obvious the man deserved no ill will, and he didn’t receive any. Even if the Hawks had offered their superstar a contract to return, fans likely would’ve had the same response towards a man who could find his name up in the rafters one day if you’re comparing him to other stars who once played on the same court he did.

 

While even someone on First Take would respond calmly to a scenario like that, things get a little bit more complicated. Take Paul George’s situation for example. Normally when a player gets traded, that’s a get out of jail free card. There’s no way you can be mad at a player who did not make the decision, as players can’t trade themselves. Still, George probably came as close as humanly possible to trading himself after he announced there was pretty much a better chance Reggie Miller came out of retirement. That’s where it gets tricky.

George was probably moments away from wearing a custom-made t-shirt that had “I’M NOT COMING BACK” written in big bold letters on it before the Pacers’ last loss against the Cavs. The man made it extremely clear he was leaving, the Pacers just chose not to listen. So when his agent announced George wasn’t returning no matter what, it left Pacers fans in a weird spot. He did take all the leverage in the world away from Indy, but it wasn’t exactly a secret he was leaving. You didn’t see as many “traitor” tweets or jersey burnings as you would’ve thought, but Pacers fans made it perfectly clear they were just done with the entire situation.

 

We made a couple of updates to the website. Have at it. #byepg13

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Giving away old Paul George merch doesn’t exactly scream “have a great career thanks for everything.” Still, it definitely isn’t even close to the worst of the offseason. That happened down in Utah after Gordon Hayward announced for a second time that he was heading to Boston. That’s where we had our biggest jersey burning of the summer.

 


There’s nothing like roasting some marshmallows over something that probably cost you over 100 bucks.

This is easily the worst response out of any free agency move this offseason. Hayward was easily the biggest free agent to leave teams, so obviously the “stakes” or whatever you want to call them are a bit higher. Now that he’s out of Utah, this team will go from a 50+ win team to one that will likely be watching more games in April rather than playing in them.

It’s still insane to be that bitter about a move like this. Since his rookie season, Hayward has gotten better each and every season and has almost single-handedly made the Jazz relevant again. He’s the first All-Star since Deron Williams and gave fans their Conference Semis appearance since 2010. Yes, he cut this team’s rebirth in half and his decision will likely send the Jazz spiraling back down to the lottery for the near future. With all that considered, you don’t think burning the jersey of the man who made basketball meaningful in Utah again is a bit extreme?

Out of the ashes from Gordon Hayward’s jersey we find real class in the NBA. The perfect departure out of any free agent in recent memory, Zach Randolph’s decision to sign with the Kings. Between the Grizzlies organization and the fans, few players have received a better farewell.

 


Plenty of teams take out an ad to say goodbye to players or thank them on their Instagram accounts. Retiring his jersey is a whole different level of appreciation.

Randolph may not seem like it, but he was one of the best players in franchise history. Before he came to town, the Grizzlies had never won a single playoff game. We constantly forget it because we’re used to seeing Randolph and Memphis slug it out in the playoffs over the past seven years, but he truly helped put this team on the map. He isn’t leaving in his prime, nor is he heading to another contender which makes this loss hurt much less, but it still doesn’t take away how the organization handled it. What may even be better is how some Grizzlies fans chose to honor him.

 

Saying thanks is great, and the standing ovation he’ll get the next time he heads to Memphis will be cool, but donating to the charity Randolph has supported is just a whole new level of class by Grizzlies fans.

Realistically, all these fans deserve a thank you from these departing players. Each one was an All Star, putting this team on the map while acting as a focal point in their playoff push each and every year. The whole “don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened” saying might be a little cliche for many, so leave with a new phrase. It may not be as poetic, but it definitely gets the point across.

You can cry because it’s over, but don’t act like a jackass as the player leaves just because he found a better opportunity.

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