|Dwight Howard earns by putting butts in seats; Gilbert Arenas is more likely to drive 'em away. (Getty Images)|
The first two weeks of the NBA season are gone, and it's starting to look like all those doomsday scenarios from months ago were accurate after all, and for this I'm supposed to be angry at NBA commissioner David Stern. I'm supposed to be angry at the NBA owners. Which is fine. I am angry at Stern. I am angry at his owners. The cancellation of regular-season games should never have been a real option, so yes, I'm really angry at Stern and his rich cronies.
But that anger toward Stern and the owners only goes so far. It forms my opinion on this whole thing only so much. Where does it not go? What does it not form?
Support for the players.
It doesn't do that. Not for me. And that puts me in the minority among the media, from what I can tell. I don't pay attention to everybody in the NBA media -- who has the time? -- but the ones I respect the most, Ken Berger of CBSSports.com and Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo, say the same thing that other media members seem to be saying:
This is Stern's fault. This is the owner's fault. The players are being treated unfairly.
I can go along with the first sentence. And the second. But the third, about the players being treated unfairly? I can't go along with that sentence.
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Not after going through the NFL lockout.
I know, I know. Apples and oranges. Comparing one sport to the other is unfair, inaccurate. I get it. I understand. But here's the thing about that NFL lockout, and what I learned from it:
With a handful of obvious exceptions, mainly the franchise quarterbacks who have become filthy rich, NFL players have been mistreated over the years. They've had to sign contracts not worth the paper they're printed on in the event that a professional athlete in the most violent team sport in the world has the nerve to get injured. When an NFL player gets hurt badly enough, his contract is terminated. His insurance goes away. Unless he has played long enough to build up the nest egg needed to cover his bills for the next 50 years -- living bills, medical bills, all bills -- he's screwed. The only bright side? Most former NFL players don't retire and then live 50 more years! So take that, owners!
Anyway, that was my takeaway from the NFL lockout: The players must win this thing, because lots of them have been, or will be, physically ruined before their career is over. And we're sitting there, at the stadium or in a sports bar or on our couch, and we're watching it happen. Terrible. Please win, NFL players. That was my thought during the NFL lockout: Please win, players.
It's not my thought during the NBA lockout, and again, I say that without a shred of sympathy for an abominable man like Donald Sterling, owner of the Clippers. My heart doesn't go out to the technology geniuses who own teams in Portland and Dallas and are rich beyond comprehension. Even if Stern and the NBA owners are telling the truth, and their teams combined to lose hundreds of millions last season alone, my heart doesn't break for those poor little rich kids. This isn't some 99-percenter rant, because I'm not in that camp, either. But anyone rich enough to buy an NBA team isn't going to get my sympathy for just about any reason that relates to business.
But NBA players ... how can I root for them to "win" this labor war? The average NBA salary is in the neighborhood of $5.1 million, which means it's equal to the average salary in the NFL and Major League Baseball combined. True, fewer roster spots in the NBA than those two leagues. So what? Overpaid is overpaid.
And in the NBA, unlike the NFL, that money is guaranteed.
I'm not advocating for the NFL system of disposable injured players. But how about making these guys earn their pay? Rashard Lewis gets every penny of his $118 million contract -- well, every penny except the ones he sacrificed when he was suspended for using performance-enhancing drugs -- whether he sucks or not. Antawn Jamison's game is fading like a basketball left in the sun, but he'll keep getting his $15 million per year. Gilbert Arenas earned $19 million last season to average 10.7 ppg, and if this were the NFL he would be cut so he couldn't steal $19 million from Orlando next season. But it's not, it's the NBA, so Arenas will get that money even if he's released by Orlando and not picked up by anyone else because, frankly, he's a pain in the ass and not worth it.
And don't let me get away with cherry-picking the most absurd contracts in the NBA and leaving it at that, as if that proves my point. It doesn't prove it, just underscores the (too) wonderful position that NBA players have enjoyed over the years. Other than a handful of stars -- LeBron, Kobe, Dwight Howard, D-Wade, Derrick Rose, Kevin Durant, maybe Nowitzki, maybe Chris Paul, maybe Blake Griffin -- everyone in the NBA is overpaid. All of them.
The guys mentioned earlier, from LeBron to Rose to Griffin, earn their money by virtue of their talent, their production, their personality, their popularity, their sheer magnetism. They bring fans to the building, to the TV sets, to the merchandise stores. Fans go to Boston games to watch the Celtics, not Paul Pierce. Fans in other cities go to see Rose, to see LeBron (and Wade), to see Dwight Howard. Everyone else on those teams is superfluous, which means everyone else is overpaid.
And maybe it's true what Wade hinted at earlier in the lockout, that the very best players in the NBA are underpaid. I can listen to that argument.
What I can't hear is that everyone else on an NBA roster, interchangeable parts like Luke Walton (scheduled to earn $6.1 million this season), Mike Miller ($6.2 million), Richard Jefferson ($10.1 million) and Luol Deng ($13.3 million), are worth whatever they've been making. They aren't.
Over the years, players have had enough. They've had more than enough.
And so, finally, have I.