Wednesday, September 28th, 2011 at 4:57 pm  |  39 responses

Revised: Oh, These Poor, Billionaire Owners

Don’t be fooled by the whiny guys who own NBA teams.

by Dave Zirin / @EdgeofSports

By the time you read this, the lockout could be over. Also, by the time you read this, I could be dunking right after finishing my four-minute mile. The owners have locked the doors and will not reopen them until the Players Association can, to quote David Stern’s own words, “guarantee profitability” for every team. Stern’s favorite subject these days is how the billionaires he represents are just losing money hand over fist. These are the wronged parties: the hard-working, exploited, victimized chief executives sacrificing their hard-earned fortunes just to overpay their ungrateful players and provide us simple fans with entertainment.

SLAM readers who resign themselves to the sports page shouldn’t be fooled. What Stern and company are doing is just the sports page wing of an all-out public relations offensive on behalf of the trampled-upon-rights of your friendly, neighborhood billionaire. Pass the Alka Seltzer. Poverty might be at a 20-year high. Public workers, like teachers, firefighters and postal workers, are being laid off in droves. Our infrastructure may be rotting. Yet billionaires pay fewer taxes than ever and a broad based call has gone out for them to pay their share.  As billionaire Warren Buffet has said, he actually pays a lower tax rate than his secretary. The “wronged billionaire,” who is just trying to create jobs in between carrying our economy, has become been created out of whole cloth to stifle, confuse and silence our rage. As one “wronged billionaire”, Washington Wizards owner Ted Leonsis said recently, “Economic Success has somehow become the new boogie man; some in the Democratic party are now casting about for enemies and business leaders and anyone who has achieved success in terms of rank or fiscal success is being cast as a bad guy in a black hat. This is counter to the American Dream and is really turning off so many people that love American and basically carry our country on their back by paying taxes and by employing people and creating GDP.”

Ted Leonsis also claims to be losing money by the boatload. The problem is that it’s all an artfully crafted lie. Leonsis and other NBA owners might be losing money on the team, as bestselling author Malcolm Gladwell recently explained, but that’s just one part of the story. It doesn’t take into account the mammoth tax breaks, the publicly funded arena, and the immediate real estate that surrounds their home base.

Factor those in and, well, there’s a reason why Ted Leonsis is a billionaire. To create the Verizon Center in the heart of DC’s Chinatown, residential housing was razed, businesses were shuttered and families were priced out of the neighborhood. Now instead of Chinese families, we have Starbucks and Chipotle with Chinese lettering above their blaring signage. As for “carrying the country” on his back, Leonsis might want to thank his army of minimum wage Verizon Center workers for keeping his ample frame in fancy suits. Behind every great fortune is truly a great crime.

The owners of the NBA and David Stern have failed. They’ve failed to be accountable to the communities they’ve raided and to the players they’ve willingly and happily put under contract. For them to cry about how put upon they are in a country where almost 20 percent of the population can’t find work is obscene.

This is why Gladwell, who is no radical, ended his column by writing, “We have moved from a country of relative economic equality to a place where the gap between rich and poor is exceeded by only Singapore and Hong Kong. The rich have gone from being grateful for what they have to pushing for everything they can get. They have mastered the arts of whining and predation, without regard to logic or shame. In the end, this is the lesson of the NBA lockout.”

He’s right. I choose to stand with Zach Randolph. Z-Bo said, “I’m definitely supporting the union. And we all should. This is something I’ve never been through so it’s frustrating, but all of the players should stick together. If that’s a sacrifice we have to make (in order) to make it better for the future then, yeah, I’m OK with it.”

I’m not OK with this lockout. I’m not OK with missing hoop. But I’m less OK with billionaires who lie about their losses because they want a few dollars more.

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  • http://Slamonline.com Caboose

    Dead on Mr. Zirin. Beautiful writing. I would love if you would write a multi-page article with further examples like Leonsis. Clearly you have something to say that should be heard. Keep up the fantastic work (as always).

  • seriousblack

    Good stuff. I also think it’s strange how the honors are also basically fighting to not honor the contracts they voluntarily signed. It isn’t just that they want to put a CBA in place that is ridiculously lopsided in their favor, but they don’t even want to pay the full value of contracts already in place. They want the public to turn on the players and feel sorry for their greedy a*#ses after they practically bend us over for every dollar they can. Us fans won’t benefit from the owners taking advantage of the players, so I say players fight on until they get a fair deal.

  • seriousblack

    *strange how the owners. Pardon the typos.

  • http://espn.go.com/blog/truehoop/miamiheat/post/_/id/6039/lebron-james-has-a-post-game nbk

    Great work Dave. I’m with you 100%

  • http://www.slamonline.com blackvictory23

    nice article. I couldn’t agree more….owners like James Dolan and the Maloof Brothers got their franchises from inheritance….isn’t that the white definition of social welfare?

  • Overtime

    Brilliant article mr Zirin, couldn’t be more right

  • Homie

    What’s so galling about this is that they want to develop a system to save the owners from themselves! These $100 MM contracts don’t write themselves…even though it would be potentially ruinous, I would love to see the union decertify and then go after the NBA in federal court under antitrust laws. Collusion, pure and simple. All to save a few rich dummies from overpaying for the free agent flavour of the month. Asinine.

  • http://www.nba.com/heat/ The Angel of Stern

    great article

  • Overtime

    I desparately don’t want the season to be lost, but more I think about it, the more I think I’d rather that to get a fair deal than cave and let the owners ‘protect themselves from themselves’ as someone mentioned above.
    An entire season lost would be devastating, think how many oppotunities lost, and how much it screws up historical arguments (But what if so-and-so had that last chance in ’12 before age really caught up with him/ what if ’12 season went ahead and so-and-so really got going and learnt the game)

  • http://facebook.com/tronjohnson ChiefKeewatin


  • http://cnbc.com JTaylor21

    Too bad you won’t hear news like this on ESPN instead they keep harping on the “NBA is losing too much money” crap.

  • http://edgeofsports@gmail.com Dave Zirin

    Thanks Slam Fam. To Caboose: for a more detailed look at this, I wrote a book called Bad Sports: How Owners are Ruining the Games We Love. It dropped in 2010. I didn’t know that by 2011, they would be on the brink of ruining the greatest game of all. (That would be basketball).

  • Groves

    i think this was written from a very naive position and limited understanding of the situation..

  • sup3rstar

    I got excited after reading the first sentence

  • Cheryl

    Two years ago when the economy started to tank and ticket prices were on the rise we quite going to what at one time was affordable family entertainment. Stern and the owners as a whole are the reason we no longer attend games….it became to costly because of their greed. I miss the ambiance, but i’ll be damned if i’ll pay $50 or possibly more for a seat in the rafters with the bats.

  • http://www.edgeofsports.com/bio.html Homie

    Care to elaborate Groves? I’m curious how Someone like Dave Zirin (click
    on my name for his bio) could be considered to have a “limited understanding” of this topic.

  • Homie

    And while I’m here, Malcolm Gladwell makes a very good point in the linked article. The company I work for owns a bunch of related companies, and part of the reason we’re successful is that when one company is busy, it generates related work for the others, because one company is the supplier of another. It’s called ‘vertical integration’, and it’s why NBA teams own arenas and vice versa. It’s also why you can’t just look at the books of one business (the team) and say they’re losing boatloads of cash without putting it into context by also talking about the revenues of the other related businesses. It’s a made up argument.

  • http://twitter.com/BeezKneezy LA Huey

    Mr Gladwell beat you to it. Good article, nonetheless.

  • http://www.tampax.com doyouwantmore

    Poor people are no better than rich people. I think Dave Zirin might be racist.

  • http://thetroyblog.com Teddy-the-Bear

    Great piece, Dave!

  • Zabbah

    Dunno about his secretary but Warren Buffet said that his housekeeper pays higher tax percentage than he does. But yeah, we get your point.

  • http://hoopistani.blogspot.com hoopistani

    Best thing i’ve read today

  • Blakos

    Great piece Dave, Groves lets hear it?…….The owners are taking the piss if they think that the public is buying their ‘poor me my NBA team is bleeding money’ line. It’s all about tax breaks and alternate avenues for funnelling cash. If owning nba teams was so tough and unprofitable they wouldn’t have bought into the business in the first place.

  • http://edgeofsports@gmail.com Dave Zirin

    Zabbah – it was secretary, not housekeeper. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Cu5B-2LoC4s

  • Daler

    Anyone who supports Stern and the owners needs their head examined.

  • charles

    I cant believe out of all the owners in the NBA, you decide to take shots at Ted Leonsis. As someone who lives in the area and has experienced the affects of his ownership first hand, you could not come off sounding more oblivious. To start off with, the Polin family were the majority owners at the time when the Verizon Center was opened, not Leonsis, and was put in place “to be the catalyst that turned the city around.” Your team is from DC, why not be located in the heart of it. Secondly, as for your statement about him needing to thank his “army of minimum wage workers,” he did just that a few years ago. After claiming that the Verizon Center did not meet the standards his fans expected, he suited up and lived a day in there lives to see just what they had to go through to keep the arena clean. By the way, this was after the same Mystics game that President Obama attended, but staying true to his word, he helped his employees clean the arena instead of sticking around with Obama. Leonsis has done a incredible job staying in touch with his fans and has created one of the best experiences in sports when coming to the Verizon Center (mostly for the Caps, but still.) I see where you are coming from but I just wish you knew more about Ted before specifically making him out to be the enemy.

  • yes.we.did

    Well said sir. It seems like the only problem with common sense is that its not so common. Keep spreading it.

  • http://twitter.com/wheelpoint wheelpoint

    Excellent. I live and breathe Wizards basketball, but his blog item was begging for this response. Thanks for voicing what a lot of us were thinking.

  • http://redoftoothandclaw.ca/ niQ

    Great read.

  • http://www.tampax.com doyouwantmore

    I want America to make millionaires and billionaires richer, not poorer. I want everyone to have equal opportunity to succeed or fail on their own character, not to have equal opportunity to get welfare from Big Government. 78% percent of the millionaires in this country got there by their own hard work. They’re the hard workers who deserve to be rewarded, not the welfare bums who sucked the economy dry with wasteful government programs. People aren’t prejudiced against the rich because the rich are bad for America. People are prejudiced against the rich because people are stupid, generally speaking. Keep towing the line, journalists! You’re Obama’s palace guard. You write what you’re told! ;)

  • geraldmcgrew

    doyouwantmore, future Senator from Massachusetts Elizabeth Warren refuted your Social Darwinist propaganda quite well:
    “There is nobody in this country who got rich on his own. Nobody. You built a factory out there — good for you. But I want to be clear. You moved your goods to market on the roads the rest of us paid for. You hired workers the rest of us paid to educate. You were safe in your factory because of police forces and fire forces that the rest of us paid for. You didn’t have to worry that marauding bands would come and seize everything at your factory…Now look. You built a factory and it turned into something terrific or a great idea — God bless! Keep a big hunk of it. But part of the underlying social contract is you take a hunk of that and pay forward for the next kid who comes along.”
    Also, I thind doyouwantmore might not know what the word “racist” means.

  • geraldmcgrew

    …”think” doyouwantmore might…(obviously)

  • YoungFlight

    Do I detect a hint of class warfare in this piece?
    “Behind every great fortune is a great lie”?? So does it hold true that behind a small fortune is a small lie?

    Yes Most of the owners are billionaires and multimillionaires. But the players also making money too! At the minimum a player in the NBA is getting several HUNDRED THOUSAND dollars a year. If they are the best then they are taking in millions per year. If I am not mistaken that would place the players in the highest tax bracket in the United States. Basically it’s the rich (owners) versus the rich (players) who are fighting for a piece of this ever growing pie.

    I’m not OK with this lockout. But I’m less OK with people trying to demonize the employers who are trying to stop losses for their businesses.

  • seriousblack

    *doyouwantmore is most likely a souless neocon with little to no sense of morality or spirituality. Your last post pretty much says it all. Your values, what little there are, are completely spelled out in every comment you make. Just remember, it’s people with your mentality who love war and push for it because of how profitable it can be. People with your mentality are responsible for the destruction of this planet with your abuses of it for profit. Your god is money. I don’t know if your kind will ever see the light, but it’s pretty sad and pathetic that you folks think the way you do.

  • http://edgeofsports@gmail.com Dave Zirin

    Charles: First, you misspelled Abe Pollin’s name in a post claiming I know nothing about DC and Abe Pollin. Bad form. Second,I’ve lived in DC 15 years and have seen Gallery Place transform every damn day. My best buddy saw his family’s business shuttered and removed to make way for the Verizon Center. Another friend saw the homeless shelter where he worked demolished. Chinatown is now Silver Spring with Mandarin characters and for Ted Leonsis to cry poverty and whine about taxes is a damn disgrace.

  • blakos

    no more of doyouwantmore

  • http://Slamonline.com Caboose

    Will definitely pick it up Dave. The only exposure I’ve had to your work thus far is the Louder than a Bomb sections in the mag. I think I’ll have to change that.

  • http://thetroyblog.com Teddy-the-Bear

    Just a random thought:
    Neo-cons are generally so-called Christians despite their ideologies having absolutely nothing to do with the tenets of Christianity. Doyouwantmore (if I recall correctly) has stated before his belief in Christianity. Do you honestly believe Christ wouldn’t want to help poor people?
    I remember when Bill O’Reilly tried, objectively, to argue that Christ wouldn’t support giving money to poor people (ie. in the form of welfare): “Christ supported charity, but he did not support self-destruction!”
    Remind me again who (supposedly) underwent self-destruction for the good of humanity?!?!?!

  • http://thetroyblog.com Teddy-the-Bear

    Not a dig at Christians… just neo-cons.