Mess O' Money

To paraphrase our old buddy, the Bard, something is rotten in the state of NBA basketball.

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A colleague recently passed along an Internet link that provides salaries for almost every player in the NBA, from seven-foot bench jockeys to Shaq, Kobe, and T-Mac. And, folks, it is an ugly sight.

Before you catch me ranting over the injustice of it all, let me allow the numbers to do some shouting. The following is a list of nine NBA players, each with his statistics from the 2001-02 season, and his salary for the season at hand (figures confirmed by the NBA Players Association). I’ve picked three certifiable superstars, three “middle-class” players (role players who may or may not start, but are regular members of their respective team’s rotation) and then three scrubs (players who wouldn’t be missed by fans, media, or their teammates were they to take up, say, boccie).

THE STARS

  • Shaquille O’Neal (Lakers, 2000 MVP): 27.2 points per game, 10.7 rebounds per game, 2.0 blocks per game; SALARY -- $23,571,429

  • Tim Duncan (Spurs, 2002 MVP): 25.5 ppg, 12.7 rpg, 2.5 bpg; SALARY -- $12,072,500

  • Chris Webber (Kings, four-time All-Star): 24.5 ppg, 10.1 rpg, 4.8 assists per game; SALARY -- $14,343,750

    THE MIDDLE-CLASS

  • Jalen Rose (Bulls, never an All-Star): 20.4 ppg, 4.5 rpg, 4.3 apg; SALARY -- $12,072,500

  • Tim Thomas (Bucks, never an All-Star): 11.7 ppg, 4.1 rpg, 1.4 apg; SALARY -- $10,750,000

  • Damon Stoudamire (Trail Blazers, never an All-Star): 13.5 ppg, 3.9 rpg, 6.5 apg; SALARY -- $12,375,000

    THE SCRUBS

  • Shandon Anderson (Knicks): 5.0 ppg, 3.0 rpg, .9 apg; SALARY -- $6,100,000

  • Stacey Augmon (Hornets): 4.6 ppg, 2.9 rpg, 1.3 apg; SALARY -- $2,400,000

  • Eric Montross (Raptors): 2.4 ppg, 2.9 rpg, .3 apg; SALARY -- $2,720,000

    If you’re going to complain about salaries in professional sports these days, you might as well gripe about getting wet in a rainstorm. Be that as it may, this is an economic (and social) structure gone horribly bad.

    Players like Shaq-daddy and Duncan earn every dime of their colossal paychecks. They move turnstiles by themselves.

    But when basketball players like Rose and Thomas -- neither of whom will ever make the difference between his team being a champion and an also-ran -- are taking in more than $10 million PER YEAR for their middle-of-the-road performances . . . well, someone needs to scream about it. The worst part? There are these types of players on every NBA roster. (Call me a homer, but I intentionally skipped the Grizzlies’ roster in tabulating this column. Suffice it to say the inflated dollar signs can be found here in our own backyard.)

    Who’s to blame here? Certainly not the players. Rest assured, if Bill Russell and Jerry West could have earned $15 million a year, they would have taken it with broad smiles (and make no mistake, they didn’t earn anywhere near that). If we’re to point fingers at all, it would have to be at the three-headed monster that makes the NBA what it is: owners, corporate sponsors, and yes, fans.

    The billionaires who make up the NBA Fraternity of Owners buy into a club, then leverage the franchise against a community for the publicly-funded construction of a new facility . . . a building that will pad the owner’s pockets, and yes, provide prime seating for the local corporate fat cats.

    Which brings us to the big-dollar sponsors. If you didn’t have companies willing to spend millions of dollars to attach their name to an arena or become sole sponsor of each telecast’s “[fill in the blank] Fast Break,” you would have organizations that are more in touch with managing their finances (read: payroll). And finally, when loyal fans are willing to spend thousands for season tickets, well, you get what you pay for.

    The sad part in all this is knowing how hard it is for kids to get close to their heroes when the prime seats are occupied by CEO’s and sponsors.

    A family of four attending an NBA game on even a moderate budget can count on parting with $200. Nothing like the annual trip across town to see the home team.

    I’m no economist, but I understand enough about the “trickle-down” concept to know that if the ninth or tenth player on an NBA roster had his salary cut from, say, $6 million annually to a paltry million, that would be $5 million “off the books” for that team’s fan base to cover.

    We have to start somewhere, folks. Why not Shandon Anderson?

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