Say you’re an NBA player, and you’ve just told a reporter that you want to stay with your team for your entire career. It probably went something like “I want to stay with this team for my entire career.” You’re a former lottery pick—great suit, btw—who has recently grown into a superstar. The fan base is nervous. They know you’re highly coveted, and it’s a contract year. Maybe that’s why you felt the need to publicly make a 15-plus-year soft commitment to one employer. But you’re going to need to sell it.
It’s grown increasingly hard to have faith in these statements. In April 2015, a little more than a year before Kevin Durant would leave Oklahoma City to sign with Golden State, the then-26-year-old did an interview with Revolt TV in which he said he “would love to stick it out with one team my entire career.”
“I love it here, man. I love my teammates, I love the city, I don’t really think about anywhere else,” Durant said. “I would love to get my jersey retired here.”
Fans have been burned by these statements many, many times. In recent years, they’ve begun burning back, literally setting the jerseys of players who have “wronged” them on fire for revenge clout on social media. In one video compilation of burning Durant paraphernalia, uploaded to YouTube the day after he signed with Golden State, 11 jerseys, two socks, a pair of KDs, and one stick were roasted. Usher’s “Burn” is dubbed over the top:
Durant isn’t the first player to say that he wants to stay with one team forever, and he isn’t the first to leave after making such a statement. In 2017, Anthony Davis said, “I’m here to stay,” referring to New Orleans. (If he really had stayed, you wouldn’t need the clarification.) That was two years ago, well into the player empowerment era we’re in now, when player movement is more expected. But it’s still normal for young players to say they want to be lifers, even in the age of internet receipts and forced trades. It’s a cheat code for fan base adoration, bonus points for small markets. Karl-Anthony Towns said it in 2016, after just one year (and one winter!) in Minnesota: “I love being here. Hopefully I can spend the rest of my career here.” Giannis Antetokounmpo said it in 2019: “Why not play for the Bucks 20 years, why not play 25 years?” Then he took it a little further: “Why not, after playing, be a member of the coaching staff or a member of the front office?”
In July, rookie Zion Williamson told the city of New Orleans that, for him, this was a forever thing. “Personally,” Williamson said in an interview with Complex, “I’ve always told myself I want to stay with one team. My intentions are to stay with the Pelicans my whole career.” On one hand, nothing could sound sweeter after watching him in the preseason. On the other, Pelicans fans are scarred. Two years ago, another generational talent looked into their eyes, held their hands, and said he was going to stay too. Can they trust Williamson?
Back to you. You said you wanted to play your entire career here. And maybe you will. Maybe you won’t. In either case, here’s a step-by-step guide on how to convince your fan base you mean it.
Do Not Buy a House in Beverly Hills
Or any property in the greater Los Angeles area, if it can be helped. Many players spend their summers in L.A., and, thanks to beach workout videos, it never goes unnoticed. Visiting for a couple of months is fine, but purchasing an entire home is the kind of commitment that gets TMZ to superimpose your face on a picture of the house next to the word: “UNHAPPY?” There is no big-market threat as powerful as Los Angeles, partially because of the next tip …
Do Not Show an Interest in Working in Hollywood
The moment you show interest in a life after basketball—be it in business, show business, or anything else—fans will remember that one day you’ll be gone. They’ll obsess over what franchise would be best, geographically, for those Ball Isn’t Life dreams of yours. This is why it’s much easier to say things like “I want to focus on this season first” when you’re asked about any upcoming decision.
Do Not Move Your Tech Company to New York
Especially if you’re already playing in a place where tech companies are known to be. Like Silicon Valley.
Do Not Mention Business
The same way you know to take offense when someone says, “No offense, but ...” fans know how to react when a player says “It’s a business.” It turns a lovely sentiment of loyalty into something more transactional: “I want to stay here forever, but only if it’s in my professional interest to do so.”
Do Not Call Another Arena the Best Place to Play
“If I could have 82 regular-season games in the Garden, I would because it’s the mecca of basketball.” LeBron James said that in 2015 to the New York Post. He’d already broken Cleveland’s heart once, and soon enough, he’d break it again, though this was years before he would leave for Los Angeles. This quote was an unnecessary cruelty to inflict on Cavs fans, who were never really at ease during LeBron’s second stint with the team. It also wasn’t great for Knicks fans, who never had a chance in the first place.
Do Not Make Any Major Agency Changes
There’s no red flag quite like switching representation. Why change, unless you’re unhappy with your current situation, compensation, and opportunities? It’s more complicated than that, sure. Maybe your agent texts too many “k” responses, and it’s finally gotten to you. Just be aware that this will alarm your fan base, like it did in September 2018 when Davis signed with Klutch Sports.