Who Made Who Rich?
NBA owners would begrudge players their large salaries, but why do fans?
by Allen Powell II
“If you made Hov, then make another Hov…”
Jay-Z uttered that line as a slick reminder to Dame Dash that while the two men had been partners and friends for years, Dash’s supposed belief that Jay-Z was a product of Dash’s shrewd marketing and business savvy was mistaken. More importantly, if Dash really believed that it was his boardroom deals that created the idol blasphemously named Jay-Hovah, then it should be quite easy for Dash to build another dynasty with anyone once the two men parted ways.
We see how that turned out.
That Jay-Z lyric came to my mind recently when I read David Aldridge’s column on NBA.com that claimed that NBA owners are tired of making players “rich.” The column said that owners don’t just want concessions from players, they want a complete and total restructuring of how the NBA interacts with players, with the ultimate goal being a severe reduction in players’ salaries so that owners can see a significant increase in their profits. Aldridge noted that although the owners aren’t saying they want to “break the union” it’s obvious they want it severely compromised.
The major rationale appears to be that owners provide all the capital and they take significant risks to operate NBA teams. They aren’t doing these things out of the goodness of their hearts; they expect to reap serious benefits from their largesse. And, while many of the older established owners of the NBA have seen their initial investment in the League grow exponentially since the NBA’s dark days of the ’70s, newer owners bought into the League when franchise values were as overinflated as California home prices. They are upside down, and they want things corrected.
It’s not surprising. There has always been a sentiment in society that athletes make too much money for the games they play. When Babe Ruth got the first six-figure contract in professional sports history, people squawked. When Bill Russell and Wilt Chamberlain demanded to be paid on a level that matched the butts they put into seats, fans and sportswriters pilloried them. And when Earvin “Magic” Johnson signed a $25-million contract for 25 years, most people were only concerned with the $25-million part of the deal.
Many fans still see professional sports as a souped-up version of what little kids do for free every day of the week. How many times do fans bemoan the greediness of an NBA player just before proclaiming that they’d do his job for free? Who doesn’t believe that LeBron, Kobe and Durant are living the dream, and only wishes they’d been blessed with the God-given talent to pursue that dream as well? Just how many people are deluded?
Sadly, it is a delusion rooted in a misunderstanding of the ratio of talent to hard work that is required to have a successful NBA career. It’s also a delusion borne of the American belief that success in business is the result of real work, while a career in professional sports is the result of winning the genetic lottery.
Sadly, this couldn’t be further from reality. Yes, genetics do help players make the NBA, but a quick glance around the college and high school basketball landscape will show you millions of young men with the innate abilities needed to succeed in the NBA, but who lacked the drive, self-control and willpower to make that leap.
More importantly, how many NBA owners owe their success to business connections and relationships fostered by their privileged parents? How many teams are owned by a conglomerate of wealthy people whose families have been wealthy for generations and whose wealth will be passed on for several more generations? Very few NBA owners are one generation removed from poverty, and few of them had to make the same sacrifices that your typical NBA player has made to achieve their current financial status. Yet, fans do not begrudge owners their wealth, while at the same time scoffing at players.
Obviously, owners don’t see players as partners, or the driving force behind their profit margins, instead they see them as interchangeable cogs whose value has become greatly overblown. It’s quite reasonable to assume that most owners believe that if they look hard enough they’ll find more than enough players willing and able to draw fans to their massive arenas. There is clearly a sense that if owners have made one NBA, it can’t be that hard to make another one.
Honestly, that’s not a surprising attitude. Increased globalization has lead to a devaluation of workers across professions. Outsourcing and union busting all stem from the same belief that growing profits provides its own fairness.
But, what is surprising is that given how frequently American workers complain about their own devaluation, that they would side with the owners in this dispute. Take away the bloated salaries of the players, and what you have is a company telling its workers that, Although we made promises to you, those promises no longer matter because we need to make more money. How many Americans have been laid off using that same rationale? How many have had to take forced furloughs, or work “off the clock” because stock prices needed to be raised so dividends could be paid?
It may be hard to sympathize with someone making $15 million a year, but it should still bother fans that the owners callously believe that the best way to make more money is to force your workforce to surrender its hard-earned benefits. While many Americans have had to kowhow to corporate interests, that shouldn’t be what we root for, should it?
After all, when did it become wrong to get rich for doing great work?