LEEInks list: Sports' biggest traitors

July 09, 2010 - 11:21 am

When the words '€œThis fall, I'€™m going to take my talents to South Beach'€ came out of LeBron James' mouth Thursday night, just one word came to the minds of everyone in northeast Ohio: traitor. (OK, maybe some other words came to mind, but we can'€™t print 99 percent of those.) To those in Cleveland, it felt like the self-proclaimed King had taken their hearts, ripped them to shreds and then threw them aside like dust in the wind '€” on national television, no less. Now, LeBron certainly will not be the last sports star to betray an entire fan base, nor was he the first ever to do so. Here'€™s a look at some of the many Benedict Arnolds who came before him in the history of professional sports. Art Modell In a perfect segue, let'€™s start the list with two of Cleveland'€™s other most well-known betrayals, although this first one certainly hurt more than the second. First, it needs to be said that Cleveland is a football town through and through. Clevelanders love their Browns, so it hurt all the more when owner decided to move his team to Baltimore in 1996 after troubled talks for stadium improvements. The keeps gets worse when you find out that Modell promised to never move the team and that voters had voted to extend a sin tax that would have raised the necessary funds to improve Municipal Stadium and keep the Browns in Cleveland. They were literally willing to pay to keep their Browns. Still, Modell up and left to start the Baltimore Ravens, and Cleveland was left without a team until 1999. Just how do Clevelanders feel about Modell? Watch the video about they were looking to '€œdonate'€ to get him into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in nearby Canton, Ohio. Carlos Boozer Another big story of Cleveland deception came from LeBron'€™s former teammate. In 2004, Boozer was heading into an option year that would have paid him just around $700,000, a bargain for a guy who averaged 15.8 points and 11.4 rebounds the prior season. However, Cavs GM Jim Paxson went to Boozer to try to extend the contract at much more reasonable rate for the low-post presence, something in the neighborhood of a six-year, $41 million contract, and in the meantime Boozer would have to officially become a restricted free agent. Allegedly, the two shook hands on the deal, and all seemed settled. However, because nothing was truly official, Boozer broke the gentleman'€™s agreement and eventually signed with the Jazz for six years and $68 million. In the video below, you can see LeBron get his revenge, if you want to call it that, but it'€™s hard not to imagine that an older Boozer could have been just the sidekick that the Cavs lacked in their recent hunts for a championship. Robert Irsay Going back to Modell for just a second, at least he can claim that he wasn'€™t perhaps as deceitful as Irsay, the owner of the Colts during the team'€™s move from Baltimore to Indianapolis. Irsay claimed that he wouldn'€™t move the team despite low attendance and stale negotiations for improvements to Memorial Stadium. Then, state lawmakers passed a law saying that the city could take the team under eminent domain. Fearing the worst, Irsay quickly planned a move to Indianapolis, and in the morning hours of March 29, 1984, 15 big rigs allowed the team to do just that by picking up all of the Colts property and moving it to Indiana. Baltimore fans went to bed thinking that they still had an NFL team and woke up to find out that it had vanished almost out of thin air. Nick Saban Saban might be the most polarizing figure in college football today. After five years and a joint national championship as coach at LSU, Saban bolted for the greener pastures of the NFL and the Miami Dolphins, leaving Tigers fans dismayed but not completely shocked yet. Then, the going got tough in Miami as Saban struggled to put together a team worthy of the playoffs. He even suffered his first-ever losing season as a coach in 2006. Rumors began to swirl that he'€™d bolt again to take the recently vacated job at Alabama. Surely, there was no way he could go from a loyal LSU coach to the sidelines of hated SEC rival 'Bama in only two years. He even said it himself: '€œI'm not going to be the Alabama coach.'€ Of course, he took the job in January 2007 after just two years on the NFL job, with his exit wounds still relatively fresh in the backs of LSU fans. Of course, this was worsened when Saban won another national championship with the Crimson Tide last season. Here'€™s Saban trying to rationalize his decision soon after making it in 2007. Lane Kiffin It'€™s actually up for debate who'€™s worse in college football: Saban or Kiffin. Kiffin famously left his offensive coordinator position at USC to become coach of the Oakland Raiders in 2007. When that failed in 2008 (like everything else invariably has for the Raiders recently), Kiffin took his own '€œtalents'€ to Tennessee to become head coach of the Volunteers last season. It should be noted that Kiffin had no real ties to the region; he just appeared to be the best coach for the future of the Vols. When he arrived, he made outrageous claims, like both he and his team would be '€œsinging Rocky Top all night long after we beat [defending national champion] Florida next year, it will be a blast.'€ The Vols went just 7-6 in Kiffin'€™s first season, including 23-13 loss to Florida. But before Vols fans could really even blast him for his subpar performance, he jetted back to USC to take the job vacated by the departure of Pete Carroll. Now, if you'€™re there for just a year, do you really have enough ties to the fan base to be considered a traitor? Probably not, but they'€™ll certainly hate you more for it. Brett Favre Say what you will about the ongoing Favre '€œWill he finally retire?'€ debate and whether or not the legend is justified in taking his sweet time deciding if he wants to play the game he loves, but you have to admit last year'€™s go-round seemed especially traitor-like. After his 15 years as a superstar quarterback in Green Bay, Favre became as much a symbol of Green Bay and Wisconsin as its dairy farms. Because of that, it probably hurt a little when the Packers traded him to the Jets in 2008 after he finally decided that he wanted to play football again, but it certainly didn'€™t hurt as much as when he decided to sign a contract with the maligned Vikings. Now, it'€™s tough to say how all Packers fans reacted to the news, but more than a few had similar reactions to this guy, albeit perhaps not in poetic form. Bill Parcells For our next traitor, let'€™s stay with the NFL but move toward a New England focus. The Big Tuna famously came out of retirement in 1993 to take over the head coaching duties for the Patriots. On the surface, everything seemed to be going wonderfully as he led the team to just its second Super Bowl appearance ever after a 10-6 season in 1996. However, behind the scenes, things apparently were not going as swimmingly. Parcells didn'€™t like that he wasn'€™t getting a whole lot of say in deciding personnel moves. He said, '€œIf they want you to cook the dinner, at least they ought to let you shop for some of the groceries." He left the Patriots after that 1996 season under contract that he wouldn'€™t immediately coach another team. However, through some backdoor brokering that eventually involved Bill Belichick and NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue, Parcells eventually popped up as coach of the division rival Jets. What made it all worse was that Belichick came out years later and said that the Pats were distracted during their trip to the Super Bowl because Parcells had been talking to other teams, including the Jets, during their week on the game'€™s biggest stage. Johnny Damon Damon was one of the idiots in Boston, and Red Sox fans couldn'€™t love him more for it. He became an easy fan favorite with his hustle both at the plate and in the outfield, but perhaps what won many Sox fans over '€” and by that we mean the lady Sox fans '€” was the look. His long flowing locks and big beard made him look like Jesus '€” a common shirt at Fenway read '€œJohnny Damon is my homeboy'€ '€” and after the team won its first World Series in 86 years in 2004, Damon certainly was hailed as a savior. Then in 2005 his contract was up, and many assumed that he would just re-up with the Sox '€” apparently including Sox management. So when Damon'€™s agent, Scott Boras, claimed that the Yankees were offering a fourth year on a potential deal, the Sox didn'€™t believe him and held firm on their three-year offer. Well, the rest is history as Damon chose instead to sign with those hated Yankees. Is he necessarily a traitor for going to the team that offered him a better deal? That'€™s something many Sox fans have wrestled with since 2005, as you can see by the mixed reaction when he stepped to the Fenway plate for the first time as a Yankee in 2005. Roger Clemens Clemens'€™ years in Boston alone may have been good enough to get him into the Hall of Fame. He was 192-111 with a 3.06 ERA and 2,590 strikeouts in his days as a member of the Red Sox. He received three Cy Young awards and an MVP trophy. However, his numbers began to slowly decline in his final four years when he was just 40-39 with an ERA of 3.77. The Sox were willing to pay him the right amount of money for a guy who looked like his best years were behind him. Of course, the Rocket wouldn'€™t take it and instead left for millions more in Toronto. After two Cy Young years up north, he demanded a trade to his old rival, the Yankees, further distancing him from his former fans in Boston. What made it all worse is that when asked what hat he wanted to don when he eventually went into Cooperstown, Clemens turned his back on his glory days at Fenway, probably because of the bitter divorce, and said he wanted a Yankees cap under the assumption that one Cy Young and two World Series titles trumped his Boston accomplishments. This and more prompted ESPN writer and Sox fanatic Bill Simmons to describe why he thought Clemens was the antichrist.