Coach of the US Men’s National soccer team Jurgen Klinsmann questioned why American superstar athletes get such preferential treatment, in the media and their professional team. Klinsmann has been critical of several aspects of American professional sports. To Klinsmann, it makes no sense to add a player to a team, simply because of his success in the past. In other words, why add Landon Donovan to the roster if he is not deserving of a spot? Simply because he has been the face of US soccer for the past decade, and is the most recognizable US soccer player ever? That makes no sense to Klinsmann, whose only job is to construct a roster that can win. The same logic, or lack of it, applies to Kobe Bryant, according to Klinsmann. Why pay him a two year deal for $48.5 million, when is 35 years old and coming off a torn achilles? That is a contract you might pay him when he is 30 years old and healthy, but not as a borderline over-the-hill shell of his former self. Paying athletes simply for their past duties is no recipe for success, according to Klinsmann.
Recently, Kobe addressed Klinsmann’s criticism, and provided some valuable insight. Kobe reminds Klinsmann that there is another perspective besides that of the coach’s. It’s true that from the coach’s point of view, there’s no use overplaying players, who are old and minimally effective, sort of like Derek Jeter at this stage in his career. But Bryant, who obviously would defend the contract he signed, talks about ownership’s perspective. It’s as important for ownership to display its loyalty, as it is for players to do so. Athletes get crushed when they show no loyalty. Think about LeBron, or even Ray Allen. Lacking loyalty is one of the biggest no-no’s for an athlete. But the front office also has to be loyal. If a player has brought multiple championships to a franchise, and has been the face of the franchise for over a decade, the ownership owes it to the player to provide a valuable contract. Rewarding Landon Donovan with a spot on the USMNT roster is not the same as rewarding Kobe Bryant with a hefty contract. The Lakers are a corporation, a brand, as much as they are a basketball team. They represent Hollywood. The USMNT cannot afford to give a spot to a player who it deems as unworthy, just because of his past successes. The stakes are higher. The World Cup is the cream of the crop, the most recognized showing of soccer. And it only happens every four years. That, of course, is beside the point that Donovan is easily deserving of a spot on the team as one of the best 23 players the US has.
Klinsmann’s decision to leave Donovan off the roster is frustrating, but his rationale is not. It is his job to win and if he doesn’t believe Donovan can really help the team, then why include him? The decision may be wrong, but the perspective is right. But Kobe is also right. Professional sports are a different realm than international competition. NBA teams, especially the Lakers, who may be the most important team in the league, are operating a money-making business that values loyalty over winning sometimes. Especially when that loyalty is to the ultimate winner.