Professional athletes are the closest thing reality gets to the superheroes who have captivated us on the big screen. They’re bigger than the vast majority of us — faster, stronger and more explosive, too. Because of this (and the amount of money they make), fans tend to overlook their humanity.
When an athlete gets hurt, the concern for them as an individual tends to be fleeting before our collectively attention turns to how the missed time might affect the team we root for, or our chances at a fantasy sports title.
The trade deadline is no different, and might be even worse. In a very good, in-depth profile written by Chris Ballard of Sports Illustrated, Kyle Kuzma spoke about how it feels on the receiving end of this fan/athlete relationship (emphasis mine):
When Kuzma and I talk again, two days after the deadline, his usual enthusiasm is muted. “It was hard,” he says. “You can’t really escape these things. You can’t look at your phone without someone sending you a text. You can’t go on social media. . . . I felt like the whole team got very tense.” Communication was minimal, he says, including from James. Games were the toughest. “Everyone’s screaming at you, and people forget we’re humans too, that everybody has emotions. . . . Fans think we’re just part of a circus, here just to entertain them. I get it, I go on social media and laugh too but sometimes people forget the people they’re laughing at are humans.”
There was perhaps no better example of fans laughing at those involved trade rumors than that fateful blowout in Indiana, where Pacers fans did this as Brandon Ingram stepped to the free-throw line.
The Lakers lost by 42.
Look, trades, free agency, rumors, speculation... It’s all part of playing professional sports. Chants like the one above kind of come with the territory of being paid millions of dollars to play a sport. That doesn’t however, make things any easier on the athletes, themselves. Some are better at tuning out the noise than others, but in some instances, they can’t ignore it.
When all the extra-curricular stuff affects players’ ability to perform, it seems somewhat disingenuous on our part to get frustrated when we’re responsible for a good chunk of the noise.
James also isn’t blameless here. It was his agent, Rich Paul, who was in the middle of Anthony Davis’ trade demands and the effort to get him to Los Angeles. The dots from Paul to James aren’t all that difficult to connect and, as such, James should probably have said something to the teammates who got caught up in the crossfire — at the very least, once the deadline passed. We don’t know that he didn’t, but him being described as quiet leading up to the deadline certainly doesn’t make it sound like he gave a big rallying cry.
Kuzma and the Lakers have 25 games left to move past all this noise and into the playoffs, though, but whether or not they do will have zero effect on the inevitable return of said noise this offseason, or in the years to come.
Eventually, those players who stick around will get better at tuning it out. To a certain extent, it’s hard not to feel for players who feel taxed by this process. Because as much as we might wish they were, they aren’t actually super heroes.