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Dr. Darrell White's Personal Blog

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It’s Not About The Money. No, Really!

Admit it. How many times have you heard or read a professional athlete utter the words “it’s not about the money” and forced yourself not to gag? Seriously, it’s ALWAYS about the money.

We hear this ad nauseum during the free agent season in every professional team sport as players from superstars on down to less-than-super subs angle for the biggest payday possible. The phrases “max contract”, “salary cap”, and “veteran exception” vie for our attention with batting averages, rebounds, and sacks. We the fans are spectators not only to the games but also to the gamesmanship between owners and players, each trying to maximize their piece of the pie. It’s ALL about the money.

The realist in me wants to acknowledge that this is simply the labor/management battle played out on the front page of the Sports Section. How, I ask, is this any different from the headlines in the Business Section where the “Masters of the Universe” keep score with their multi-billion dollar spoils?

But then it hits me…in the board rooms and the banks how much money you make is the ONLY scorecard. There is no other way to rank the players or the teams. The person with the highest salary wins. That’s it. Nothing else. The company/bank with the highest profit is the “best”. If Goldman Sacs makes more money than JP Morgan then Goldman is the better bank and Lloyd Blankfield is better and smarter than Jamie Dimon. Money is the only metric, and no one sits at home playing Fantasy Wall Street or cheering for their home town Hedge Fund.

And there’s the rub–the games we watch all have a scorecard, and we keep the score of the games the same way whether it’s the Cleveland Browns vs. the Miami Dolphins in the NFL, or the Shaker Heights Eagles vs. the Southbridge Mass Ponies in Pop Warner. A free throw is one point whether it’s Bingo Smith at the line in the NBA or bingo (yours truly) at Tri-City Park in Rocky River. If you’re playing the game in the back yard, or if you’re a fan of the pro game it doesn’t really matter. What you care about is winning. Period.

When was the last time you heard the words “it’s not about the money” from a big-time athlete, spoken or unspoken, and you believed them? I can come up with exactly one, and I’ve been following pro and college sports since I could turn on a TV. I really did believe Tim Tebow, the kid from Florida, who came back for his senior year to play quarterback. I mean, what did he have to gain money-wise by doing that? Heisman trophy winner. Leader of two NCAA champions. Top five pick in the draft whenever he came out. I really think the kid just loves college and being a college student and football player. Other than him? Shut-out.

But there’s something really interesting blowing in the winds of the NBA. You know that place, home to the “Bird Exception” that allowed the Celtics to pay Larry $33 Million in his last season. Where Michael Jordan took home a cool $30 Million despite making somewhere north of $50 Million in endorsements each year for 10 + years. Some upper mid-level power forward–I can’t even remember his name–agreed to hold off on signing his contract with the Cleveland Cavaliers, promised a huge raise and the chance to play with LeBron James, only to exile himself to Utah when an offer of more money arose. I DO remember what he said in the paper, though. Yup…you guessed it…”it’s not about the money.”

Still, there it is, a whisper dancing just outside the conversation. Someone, a very important someone, has a chance to utter that fateful phrase, “it’s not about the money”, and really mean it. Here now is LeBron James, a free agent at the end of this NBA season, who has the opportunity to sign a contract that is all about his team winning. LeBron, who makes somewhere in the vicinity of $80 Million in endorsement money, can sign a “max contract” that will pay him around $100 Million or so over 7 years, maximizing his income from playing the game but also maximizing the difficulty that General Manager Danny Ferry will have gathering talent to surround LeBron in order to win. Win like you and I think about winning, as in winning NBA championships.

It’s just the tiniest of breezes now, barely enough to tickle what’s left of the leaves on the trees in Cleveland, not even enough to rustle the top sheet of the Plain Dealer as it sits in your driveway. LeBron could sign for the veteran’s minimum, about $2 Million per year. The $2 Million wouldn’t even count against the Cav’s salary cap! Doing this would free up, what, $20, $25 Million per year? That’s enough to sign not one but TWO major players, especially if they, too, sign on just a little bit to “it’s not about the money”, it’s about playing with LeBron and WINNING. Dwayne Wade AND Chris Bosh in Cleveland with LeBron James. In Cleveland, playing to win.

It’s still about the money, of course. I’m not naive enough to think that there wouldn’t be massive positive PR for LeBron if he took a minimum contract and stayed in his hometown city and then won. I also know that he can revisit his max contract option in 2 or 3 years and get pretty much the same number he would get now, even with the massive increase in off-court income likely to come his way if he played it my way. But still, a chance to say “it’s not about the money” and really mean it, even if it’s only for a couple of years? It’s man bites dog stuff.

Who knows if it will happen but I get a little smile as I think about the hurricane that will tear through the Player’s association if LeBron does this. I love thinking about David Stern’s office after the tornado plows through if LeBron comes out and says “it’s not about the money” and means it. If LeBron James is the first professional athlete in modern sports history who literally puts his money where his mouth is.

Hey…anybody out there have Maverick Carter’s cell number?

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14 Responses to “It’s Not About The Money. No, Really!”

  1. December 10th, 2009 at 6:50 pm

    Mark says:

    One thing to keep in mind is that LeBron, Dwayne and Carmelo had conversations during contract negotiations, and the intent was for all three to work their contracts to expire in 2010.

    The reason? I don’t know, but all three admitted to having those talks.
    Interestingly, Carmelo didn’t go along and signed for longer period with the Nuggets.

  2. December 10th, 2009 at 8:09 pm

    darrellwhite says:

    All the better for the Cavs, Mark. Carmelo is less able to fit in than Wade and Bosh. Makes you think about the old Bird, Parrish, and McHale days, eh?

  3. December 11th, 2009 at 2:01 am

    Andrea says:

    Wow this brings back memories! I remember when I lived in Seattle and A-Rod left the Mariners. He said “It’s not about the money” but it was. And the first game he played in Seattle as a “non” Mariner, had fans booing like crazy and throwing Monopoly money on the field. There was a delay of game while they cleaned it up. And there was a lot!! I’m curious as to what LeBron will do.

  4. December 11th, 2009 at 9:08 am

    darrellwhite says:

    Andrea, you could expect something worse in Cleveland if he left. I don’t think there would be a single objection if he took a max contract here, though. Folks really like this kid, and as he has grown and matured he has returned their affection. I hope his advisors respect that and remind him of that.


  5. December 12th, 2009 at 1:56 pm

    Bottomless says:

    Greatings, skyvisioncenters.com – da best. Keep it going!
    Have a nice day

  6. December 13th, 2009 at 1:38 am

    Watch says:

    Nice, love your articles. Just favd your site 🙂

  7. December 14th, 2009 at 7:58 pm

    Mark says:

    Bingo ~ I think the 3 of them wanted their contracts to simultaneously expire so they could have leverage to bid up the market. I know that’s not what you wanna hear, but I’m a Cleveburgh native too!!
    I’m sure he’s talking to Bosh (and others) about becoming a Cav. It’ll all work out.

  8. December 18th, 2009 at 4:02 pm

    Chris Crawford says:

    Interesting idea Darrell. Carlos “loser” Boozer is the former Cav you were referring to. I doubt you will see Lebron take less than a max contract, and if he did, I don’t think it would be anywhere near the veteran minimum. It would be powerful if he did do that. From a negiotiation perspective, it might be more worthwhile for him to take a max contract and then have a standing offer on the table with Danny Ferry that if he needs more money or cap room, they can come talk to him.

    One interesting and unselfish move was by Sean Payton coach of the New Orleans Saints. He gave up I believe $500k in salary this year at the beginning of the season to sign Gregg Williams as defensive coordinator. This year their defense has been greatly improved and they are undefeated.

  9. December 18th, 2009 at 8:28 pm

    darrellwhite says:

    Can’t say I disagree with your prediction, Chris. Still, a fan can dream, eh?

  10. May 24th, 2010 at 6:22 am

    Carmine Farner says:

    Surely the latest rumours about Delonte and Lebron’s mom couldn’t be true.. I mean, could they?!

  11. May 24th, 2010 at 8:33 am

    darrellwhite says:

    Man, I sure hope not. It’s not a very pretty picture, is it?! Not a very attractive couple. There are rumors of other family problems chez LeBron, too.

    My bet is that LeBron signs for two years with a player option for a third, puttin the heat on ownership to spend the money to get a championship. With or without a title he’s off to a bigger city in 3 years, max.

  12. July 9th, 2010 at 12:54 am

    Geoff Map says:

    Miami Heat? What the f***? Le Bron needs to be a Laker, straight up.

  13. July 9th, 2010 at 4:01 am

    Winnifred Harpine says:

    apparantly he is ordered shizz for a celebratory party in the South beach therefore it appearance like Miami it is. I still think its kinda self indulgent him having a tv demonstrate to announce it tho

  14. July 11th, 2010 at 7:19 pm

    Manny Burglar Alarms says:

    Lebron James once called the King has now become the black sheep of the family. The city of Cleavland pinned all of their hopes and dreams on this 25 year old, who simply wants a championship. Looking at the Cleavland Caviler’s roster, Lebron didn’t have much many options if he wanted to get back to the finals. The Boston Celtics dropped Cleavland in five games. Orlando beat the Cavilers the year before to go to the finals against the Lakers. Given that there was no improvement in the teams roster, Lebron really stood no chance of getting better any time soon. So in a word, I give Lebron a break on his decision to leave the Cavilers for South Beach.

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