Random Thoughts from a Restless Mind

Dr. Darrell White's Personal Blog

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Posts Tagged ‘Champs’

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?