NBA Lockout / US Economic Outrage


Malcolm Gladwell of “Outliers” fame, recently wrote up an article on the Brooklyn Nets.  If you’d like to be outraged by the inequities of unsupervised capitalism and horrified by how misleading the notion that NBA teams are all losing money is, please give it a read.

I don’t have much to add, but to hit the key points:

  • The value of the Nets has almost nothing to do with basketball and everything to do with real estate development.
  • Ratner used ownership of the Nets to secure an eminent domain condemnation of a fairly thriving neighborhood (essentially kicking American citizens out of their homes and businesses on the grounds that he could provide more homes and businesses if he owned the land).
  • Prokhorov then leveraged his great wealth (which he “earned” by somehow obtaining the mining rights to the entire iron industry in Russia if memory serves) to buy into a Ratner’s team and real estate while Ratner had spread his current personal fortune thin in the legal and construction side of the endeavor.
  • The gap between the wealthy and poor in the US is the third highest in the developed world, behind only Singapore and Hong Kong.
  • In the ’50s and ’60s the USA had one of the smallest margins between average and rich incomes in the world.  The reason being that the taxes on the wealthy were exorbitantly high (in excess of 90% on every dollar made over $250,000 – though I don’t know what the exact trigger income was to climb into that tax margin).

Add a one and two zeros and you got yourself a wad!

I’m not an economist.  This blog is not a pulpit for me to deliver fiery sermons on the inequities of the one-sided class war currently raging in America and around the world, but I think I understand the point behind that tax (I’m bringing this back to basketball, I promise).  See for every extra $300,000,000 a year a billionaire finds a way to make – some method such as billion dollar real estate development that is completely unavailable to a citizen of more moderate means – that’s $300,000,000 not being earned by the rest of the country.

Sure some of the money may be reinvested into Microsoft or GE or Associated, but at the end of the day, one family is controlling that sum.  Logic dictates that for one person to have more in an economy with a set amount of wealth (and even an international market is finite), then someone else has less.  Bill Gates doesn’t actually supernaturally shit out cash.  It comes from the wallet of somebody else.  Or in reality sombodies.  If one person has a whole lot more than the baseline, then a lot of people have to go with a little less to balance the scale.  For mega-wealthy people to exist, impoverished drones are basically a necessity.  Which is great for Paris Hilton and terrible for the people who watch her make more money on television (yeah, she gets paid to be on those shows).  That’s how it is for better or worse.  Maybe you can take advantage of the opportunity and be one of the fortunate few.  Maybe not.  Maybe it’s not important to you.  I don’t care.  I just want to watch the NBA.

Anyway, all that diatribe, which isn’t really meant to be as political as it comes off (I’m not a communist, I swear), is to say that these owners need to cool it.  You can only have so much before you outprice your consumers.  You know why people don’t go to games anymore?  A decent seat is insane.  I go to one or two NBA games a year because that’s all I can afford.  I love the sport.  I write a fucking blog about it!  But I can’t afford it, and I’d rather sit in my home with a snack and watch three games at once than go to the Prudential Center and sit in the nosebleeds with a cardboard barrel of crappy beer balanced precariously on my lap.  You bought your team to own a professional basketball team, for the exposure, and maybe to make good on some other investments.  If you don’t want it anymore, sell it to someone who does.  Don’t try to impose a system that guarantees profitability.  That sounds like a scam.  And it’s going to cost me my NBA season!!!

And you players need to cool it too.  You play a sport to entertain an audience.  That doesn’t entitle you to so much money that the next 7 generations of your progeny won’t have to ever work.  Yes, salaries are currently in the 10s of millions of dollars annually.  But for Basketball Jesus’s sake, Magic Johnson was 20 times the draw you are (and I don’t care who “you” refers to – nobody currently playing had near the draw that Magic did on the court – he was an entertainment and athletic phenom), and in terms of basketball income, he never made anywhere near what Joe Johnson’s current contract is going to pay him.  Really. estimates Magic’s career income at $18MM (basketball – not including all his other ventures).  Joe Johnson’s current contract is worth $116MM.  Has anyone ever said, “Oh damn!  We gotta get to the Garden tonight!  Joe Johnson’s Hawks are playing the Knicks!”  Not to pick on Joe.  Even middling 4-5 year contracts are more than the 3 time MVP, 5 time Champion, NCAA God, only retired player ever to win an All-Star MVP because he was so friggin’ popular the fans voted him in after he left the game – Magic Johnson – made in his whole career.  And Magic famously gave back a portion of his salary so that the Lakers could pick up free agent Terry Teagle and stay under the salary cap!!!  Sure there’s inflation to consider.  Yeah, thanks to increased TV revenue and bigger arenas and more saturated marketing, there is more money to be had, but what makes these mere mortals think they deserve so much more than Magic or Bird or even Jordan for most of his career?

What about, MJ, you say?  Yeah, that’s right.  Michael Jordan thinks players are making too much money.  You think that’s hypocritical?  Wrong.  Wanna know why?  Jordan played for less than other stars of his era for much of his career.  Never made a stink about it.  He signed a contract, and he honored it.  And he retired with that way-lower-than-market contract still in place.  Sure he came back and made $25MM a year for two seasons, but guess what?  He was MICHAEL JORDAN!!!!!!  He was the Beatles and Elvis and Superman to the Association.  On his shoulders the popularity of the league was lifted, and on the savvy of Phil Knight, the league learned how to market it’s stars based on Jordan’s example.  That’s his money you’re all making right now.  If he doesn’t want to pay it to Gerald Wallace or Stephen Jackson for a team scraping to make the 8th seed, and keep an arena half-filled, that’s his prerogative (though he should still sell rather than lockout – MY season!!!).  Yeah. I’ll go Bobby Brown all over this subject!

How many millions of dollars is enough?  I realize this lockout is entirely the owners’ fault.  I get that.  I can see who the villain in the story is, and I don’t disagree that it’s a shameful mockery and insult to our collective intelligence that they are passing this off as anything other than raw greed.  But the players need to have some perspective here.  How much is going to be enough?  Why can’t NFL player money and contract structure suffice?  If you don’t compromise minimum salaries (which are ludicrously high), and you keep the first couple of years guaranteed… can’t you just make do with a hard cap?  I just want to watch some goddamn NBA basketball this year!  That’s all.  I’m not asking to pay lower cable fees or for a deal on season tickets to Madison Square.  I just don’t want to miss Durant’s ascension and LeBron’s prime because everybody needs to be take showers in champagne to wash off the caviar stuck in their stubble.

I know it’s un-American to suggest that a person should be grateful for what he has and not reach for more than he could ever, ever need… But it didn’t used to be.  Following WWII, the greatest generation did just that.  Rich people paid their 90% taxes and were happy for the opportunity to do so (according to Gladwell’s article – I wasn’t actually there)  because it meant that they were rich.  Alright!  We reached the point where Uncle Sam needs to punish us for making so damn much money!  We did it, honey!  We did it!

(Fiery sermon over – disembarking pulpit)


6 Responses to “NBA Lockout / US Economic Outrage”

  1. pmadavi Says:


  2. High Above Courtside Says:

    A 50 or 45 game season is ok with me and my plan. Missing Lebron won’t cause me any sleepless nights.

    • pmadavi Says:

      Do you eat and sleep anymore, or does your hatred keep your heart beating?

    • jpalumbo Says:

      How do you feel about missing the last season where the KG, Pierce, Allen triumvirate has functional knees or compressing that last season into a series of brutal road trips and back to back games?

      Jason Palumbo

      Sent from my iPhone

  3. High Above Courtside Says:

    I’m fine. I watched decades of basketball before LeBron—and I’ll watch years of it after he is done. There will be ball played, it will just be a reduced season, which will be perfect for the Celt’s

    Without games in Nov to worry about missing I’ll be able to enjoy an “Evening with Primus” when they play locally.

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