There are two kinds of public break-ups that you just never want to see: Political break-ups and Sports break-ups. These are the worse. In political break-ups you have back-stabbing politicians, one-time friends who now despise each other, calling you everything from Judas to LeBron James, to characterize your lack of loyalty.
And speaking of LeBron, was there ever a more pathetic public display than the whinning, pouting, jersey-burning and gnashing of teeth that went on when he broke up with the City of Cleveland for that hot and spicy gig down in Miami? Needless to say, when you mix a sports break-up with a politics break-up you’ve got a frothy stew of bitterness that is a sight to see. And we just saw that this week from New Jersey Governor Chris Christie.
As soon as rapping, oil-price fixing and presidential office-seeking Russian billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov bought the New Jersey Nets, he made it clear that he was planning on moving the team from Jersey to New York. With Jay-Z as a very public junior part of the ownership team Prokhorov has basically been waiting out the string with the Nets in Jersey – and after 35 years the team will move to Brooklyn this fall with a brand spanking new stadium and supposedly a chance to rival the Knicks. Losing a sports franchise is a major blow to most local economies not to mention a slight to the pride of a major city. Being a two, or even three, sport franchise city (let alone state) is a major draw for investors, tourists and newcomers and Governor Chris Christie was not happy to see the Nets hop over the river to rival New York.
Just hours before the Nets last game in Jersey Christie made it clear how he felt about the 22-43 Nets who haven’t sniffed the playoffs in years:
“My message to them is: goodbye. ….You don’t want to stay, we don’t want you. I mean seriously I’m not gonna be in the business of begging people to stay …. Good riddance, see you later.”
I must admit, it’s one of the better sports/political break-ups. NBA teams in particular have been jerking their cities around like crazy over the last decade but few politicians manage to sound as ‘over it’ as Christie, while some filthy rich owner skips town with thousands of jobs and tax revenues.
When the Seattle Supersonics skipped out of the Queen City in 2008 in favor of the farmer’s daughter in Oklahoma City the mayor sounded like a chump. Seattle Mayor Greg Nichols accepted a $45 million dollar settlement from the Sonic’s new owners to break the last two years of their deal and move to Oklahoma city leaving Seattle without their only major league sports franchise to win a championship in almost 70 years (Sorry: but the two WNBA Championships and the Soccer Championship aren’t MAJOR!).
When the NBA’s Hornets left Charlotte for New Orleans in 2002, Mayor Pat McCrory did what any jilted ex would do and blamed the one who spurned him saying:
“I wanted the Hornets to stay in Charlotte. But the fact of the matter is we had an ownership team that made fans not want to come to ball games.”
To be fair, Hornets owner George Shinn had been busted in a pretty tawdry sexual assault case that made him one of the most reviled men in North Carolina so maybe McCrory wasn’t just full of sour grapes. In what has to be the kindest sports and politics break-up in recent years when the Grizzlies moved from Vancouver Canada to Memphis, there was barely a peep out of our Canadian cousins. Then again, they are known for being pretty polite.
In the end, Christie will likely get a few political brownie points for telling the state’s ex-NBA wife to not let the door slam her on the butt on the way out. Still, he should be careful. If the governor wants to bring another team to New Jersey, he might want to make sure he seems welcoming and friendly since those NBA franchises can be awful fickle.
DR. JASON JOHNSON, Politic365 Chief Political Correspondent, is a professor of Political Science at Hiram College in Ohio and author of the book Political Consultants and Campaigns: One Day to Sell. You can read more at www.drjasonjohnson.com or follow him on Twitter @Drjasonjohnson