The SportingJournal

Buddy faces his own LeBron-like “Decision”

The choice Hawthorn’s Lance Franklin will make at the end of the 2013 season shares similarities with a decision made by a certain other sports star four years ago. TSJ’s Ben Brown takes a closer look.

Hours after the NBA’s best player LeBron James led his Miami Heat to a second straight Championship, another hulking powerhouse took to the playing field in his chosen sport on the other side of the world.

Lance Franklin had a quiet game by his standards, registering two goals and 12 possessions for Hawthorn in their 11th straight win over West Coast in Round 13, but there is no doubt he has been the premier power forward in the AFL for a number of years, a mantle James can also claim as his own in the NBA.

And now, like LeBron in 2010, Buddy faces the inevitable question at season’s end – should I stay or should I go?

Speculation about Franklin’s future at Hawthorn has been rife in recent weeks, with some suggesting he is as good as gone – the Hawks lacking the salary cap room to offer him the money other clubs have available.

Buddy may not receive the fanfare which James received during his time in free agency (culminating in a national broadcast called ‘The Decision’, in which James announced he would be leaving the Cleveland Cavaliers to join the Miami Heat), but his choice over which team he will join is sure to be similarly divisive.

And perhaps this is where the Buddy/LeBron comparisons should end.

LeBron James left Cleveland with the primary goal of winning an NBA Championship, joining two other stars of the game at the Heat – Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh – and sacrificing $15 million over the course of his six year contract to make the deal possible.

Buddy’s biggest suitor is alleged to be the fledgling GWS Giants, who are reportedly considering offering the big forward at least $1.5 million per year to play in New South Wales in 2014 and beyond – an expense they can afford due to AFL assistance as a new club.

His current club is red hot favourites to make amends for its Grand Final defeat last year.

Buddy arguably already has the equivalent of his own ‘Wade and Bosh’, in the likes of Luke Hodge, Jarryd Roughead, Sam Mitchell, Cyril Rioli and Grant Birchall just to name a few – he is already in best team in the league.

If Buddy left Hawthorn at the end of this year, then, it would be all about the money, while LeBron left Cleveland to win – right? Buddy would be leaving for selfish reasons while James was doing the sporting thing by taking whatever measures necessary to get victory, right? Perhaps the equation is not that simple.

To begin with, it is worth noting that football and basketball are vastly different sports at the professional level.

LeBron James is a superstar of the NBA – his individual brilliance helped take a Cavaliers team from a 17-65 record to a 35-47 record in his rookie season alone, before carrying the league’s worst team to reach five playoff series’ in a row, the first in just his third year in the league.

No AFL player could dominate the game to that degree – the prime example being Gary Ablett, the AFL’s best player, who left a team at the top of their game after spending nine years in the league to join the brand new Gold Coast Suns, who have failed to improve substantially due to Ablett’s presence on the team.

Despite being the most sought-after key forward in the league, Buddy will not change the course of a team’s history upon arrival – as LeBron James would have, had he chosen to play at any team other than the Heat.

Let’s remember that James left behind a team he had guided to first place in the Eastern Conference in each of the two years before he left, but was able to join a better team due to his ability to assert his immense individual influence on the game.

Perhaps we should not judge Buddy so harshly, then, for choosing to leave the Hawks for a lower-ranked club, should he do so.

Simply because he lacks the power to directly influence the outcome of results, he should not be labelled as a selfish cash-chaser.

No doubt, he will give the entirety of his effort to whichever club he plays for.

In terms of money, we may see LeBron’s decision to sacrifice $15 million in order to leave salary cap space to pay his Heat teammates as the mark of an ultimate sportsman – surely, anyone who gives up this amount of money for a chance to win is exactly that?

But perhaps not when we consider that James still received a mammoth wage of $110.1 million over six years – his $14.5 million per year salary leaving Buddy’s potential deal of $1.5 million seems like petty cash in comparison.

And when Buddy’s football career is treated as a job – which it essentially is, being a full time position and, indeed, one with an early retirement age – a decision to leave the Hawks suddenly seems far less selfish.

Consider a normal, working man who is offered a job at another workplace – albeit a smaller and less successful workplace – doing the same job for a far superior wage to the one on offer from his current place of work.

Most would suggest this man would be crazy not to take the job offer, so why should the same standard not be applied for Buddy?

In fact, perhaps the decision to leave one of the best clubs in the league should be seen as the selfless decision to make.

Buddy would, if he were to move to, say, GWS, be essentially giving up on the chance to win another premiership during his career but, with ambitions as a leader and as a passion for the game, would be providing the next generation of stars with a fantastic grounding and would be assisting in growing the game.

Through all the media and speculation thus far, however, Buddy and the Hawks have remained staunchly focussed on the present season.

Coach Alastair Clarkson has suggested the club will “deal with it as they go”, and this is perhaps the smartest move at this stage in the piece.

For all the conjecture about LeBron James’ decision, the decision was always going to be made by LeBron James – and the same will be true for Lance Franklin.

Twitter: @bdbrown50

Cover image credit: Joseph Glorioso

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