Dial it Down

I just finished reading Playing for Keeps by David Halberstam, which is the best book on the rise of the NBA and its best player ever, myself. I mean, Michael Jordan.

Coincidently, I read this New Yorker article on the NBA and its players being anxious. Consider this:

1978-79 total NBA salary: $40 million.

1984-85 total NBA salary: $242 million.

2018-19 total NBA salary: $3+ billion.

Two things are going on at the same time and going in different directions. First, basketball is a team sport and you do not win without a team, whoever you are. David’s book is so beautiful and captivating because it shows Michael’s other worldly power but that also, he wouldn’t have done it without a team (players, coaches).

Second, the power relationship between players and owners. True, players used to be treated like cows. And because of the racial thing, owners mostly being white and players mostly being black, that would always leave a bad taste in the mouths of NBA players. So players started to demand extremely good contracts. After all, they are the actors that bring NBC and ESPN billions.

To put it in perspective, Scottie Pippen, one of the best player to ever play the game, had 5 titles under its belt and was paid less in 1998, for his sixth title, than rookies today. That’s how much money players make these days.

And yet, they’re anxious. And yet, they’re unhappy. It’s like they got everything they wanted and they’re not happy about it. They don’t even need to win to be popular. They can even say “playoff mode activated”, while opening the next game with 4 missed free throws with the certitude that the team will not make the playoffs. No one is mad. It’s all good.

So, three words: dial it down. Get those salaries back to decency. Teach those young players the basics and fundamentals like court vision, how to shoot (Fultz makes $5M this year and I shoot the ball better that he is) and having some kind of relationship that goes further than sitting next to their teammates while they’re on their damn phones.

Teams who sport big names have become boring as hell. It’s no surprise the Warriors seem so out of reach with their stars who play together and act as a full team. I know, it might be just an illusion. But you need that illusion to win. And you need to win to demand a high salary.

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