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Does it Matter How Much Money the Players Get?

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Published: October 16, 2011

I’m sure we’ve all heard how unbelievable it is that “millionaires and billionaires” have let dividing revenue get in the way of both sides making lots and lots more money. The problem with that, as ThinkProgress (typically a very liberal political website) points out, is that the feud is actually billionaire owners versus a mix of multimillionaires and other guys who will have a 60% chance of declaring bankruptcy within five years of leaving the league.

Conflating the two groups as similarly-placed economic royalists, neither of whom deserve sympathy from an American public grappling with a depressed economy, is understandable. But to create an equivalency between millionaire players and billionaire owners obscures a scarier picture regarding the players’ long-term economic prospects.

To be certain, little sympathy exists for millionaire athletes, particularly as the American public suffers through a struggling economy. This article is not meant to defend rich NBA players who frivolously squander away their money, such as Latrell Sprewell who complained about a $21 million contract because it was hardly enough to “feed my family,” all the while spending millions on real estate and an Italian yacht.

But for every Sprewell, there are dozens of no-name players who for a multitude of reasons go broke shortly after retirement. In fact, a 2009 Sports Illustrated investigation found that approximately 60 percent of NBA players enter bankruptcy within five years of exiting the league.

There aren’t any studies that I know of which determine whether or not the amount a player makes in his NBA career greatly increases or decreases the odds of his declaring bankruptcy, but the list of high paid players who have filed in recent years is a rather depressing reminder that a high salary in no way shape or form makes any individual immune to the financial hardships that most NBA players face after departing the league. An extra 100 or 200 million split 450 ways isn’t going to fix that problem, and even a win by the Players Union in these now drawn out negotiations won’t do anything to ensure that the trend doesn’t continue.

In fact, this will likely add to that number as some players are undoubtedly missing out on the biggest, and in some cases only real paydays of their NBA careers. Take Patrick Ewing junior for instance. I’m rooting for him to break out whenever this lockout is over and to earn a spot on the Hornets. If an agreement is reached this year, he probably will. Especially now that teams will be scrambling to fill up their rosters. The Hornets have up to nine spots to fill. Time works in Ewing junior’s favor here.

But what if the labor crisis isn’t solved until next year? Then there is essentially twice as much young talent entering the fold as their would have been in a normal year. In the NBA, ability and potential often trump what a guy can do for you this year or next. Ewing jr. is 27, but he’s not some veteran who will be picked up for leadership (he scored his first field goal last year).

He’s just a hard working guy looking to get the hell out of his dad’s shadow and establish himself as a back of the rotation NBA player. (He probably wants more than the last part, but that’s what a realistic goal is for him at this point in his career.) In a normal year he would get his shot at a full NBA season next year. Without it, he’s left with future up in the air and out of his control (just like me…).

In a battle of wills where one side cracking results in getting paid millions and millions of dollars to play basketball, it’s hard to see how this lockout can still be going on.

(edit- a sentence was reworded. Also, I just want to note that the title is really bad.)

2 comments
James Online
James Online

"Without it, he’s left with future up in the air and out of his control (just like me…)." And almost everyone else. Ewing grew up rich. He's in the 1%. Sorry, no pity whatsoever. When punks like Carmelo Anthony, LeBron James, Dwayne Wade, and Baron Davis team up with the incompetent Billy Hunter to square off against a corporate greed manager like David Stern, what do you expect?

NOEngineer
NOEngineer

Declaring bankruptcy is a continuation of many players' ride. Lots of the newly rich overcommit to a luxury lifestyle while the money is rolling in, assuming that the inflow cannot stop. This applies to Wall Street and street ball. Agents and other hangers-on convince the player that he is the greatest and should live the high life and treat those around him generously, instead of investing wisely and establishing a viable level of consumption. Bankruptcy has been pushed a solution to improper spending by homeowners, business owners, entertainers, and ball players for the past 5 to 10 years. The lax attitude toward debts that are owed is a big part of our current economic crisis. Nobody wants to lend money when the prevailing attitude is that it doesn't really need to be paid back. The scrubs may have a tough life compared to the stars, but it's still better than 95% or more of the public, who will take years to accumulate $100,000 in net worth if they ever do. A smart NBA back-bench player could do way more than that in a year. Many won't, but doubling or tripling their salary won't change that in most of those cases. It's all about character....