Blog Home » NBA free agency merely capitalism at work, working for the players

NBA free agency merely capitalism at work, working for the players


Timing isn’t everything in life. But it certainly helps. Getting in at the start of, say, Google or Amazon, is much different from getting in now.

Part of timing is dumb luck; another part is strategic thinking. Choosing to enter one field versus another, for instance, education versus engineering, is also a choice between divergent levels of expected income.

Put it all together – being in the right place/industry at the right time – and you have NBA free agency 2016.

The spending spree that rocked sports since Friday is a simple case of economics and market forces. The reaction from many observers is also a simple matter: They’re angry, envious and bitter because NBA players struck it rich instead of them.

I wish it was me, too, but I don’t begrudge the players for enjoying their windfall. They put themselves in position and they’re reaping the benefits. I couldn’t be happier for them.

Do they deserve it? Absolutely.

Are they overpaid? Perhaps, but not to the same degree as CEOs and team owners.

Players are the labor, the talent, the attraction. Always remember that no matter how big a player’s paycheck, the person who signs the check has a bigger bank account. That’s why the outrage against NBA free-agent spending makes no sense … unless you believe management should keep most of the money that players bring in.

ESPN/TNT didn’t agree to a nine-year, $24 billion TV deal to watch Mark Cuban, James Dolan and other owners sit in courtside seats. The networks are dishing out that loot for the rights to broadcast nightly exploits by LeBron James, Steph Curry, et al.

Management and labor always haggle over money: each side wants a larger portion. But thanks to the players’ union efforts in collective bargaining agreement, owners must fork over about half of the revenue they bring in. So while player salaries are exploding, so are the owners’ profit margins.

Yet, all we’ve heard since the free-agent signing period began is complaints about overpaid, undeserving players. Football players, in particular, are feeling underappreciated and disrespected, but again, it’s a numbers game.

The NFL brings in twice as much revenue ($13 billion in revenue last year alone) and its salary cap is 60 percent higher ($155 million).

But NFL rosters are 3.5 times larger than NBA rosters, 53 players to 15 players. There’s simply no way around that huge difference when comparing the two leagues.

So it’s pointless to point out that lightly regarded Timofey Mozgov got $64 million from the Los Angeles Lakers, which would make him the NFL’s fourth-highest paid player in terms of guaranteed money (behind Andrew Luck, Eli Manning and Phillip Rivers).

This is the “time of year where NFL players must avert their eyes,” ESPN business analyst tweeted. “These contracts will make it clear they’re sitting at the children’s table. #NBA”

“Call me a hater but these NBA deals are insane,” Pittsburgh Steelers halfback DeAngelo Williams tweeted. “I have to google the players getting paid. #nonamechecks #productiondoesntcount”

Other players joked about picking the wrong sport or making sure their children make a wiser athletic choice. It doesn’t take a genius to recognize that MLB and NBA careers are better options – if possible – than the NFL. The money is guaranteed and there’s far less risk to long-term health.

But football has many more job opportunities. An NBA team carries four or five guards whereas an NFL team can carry upward of 15 athletes (between halfbacks, defensive backs and wide receivers) who perhaps could play in the backcourt.

Focusing on pro sports is fool’s gold for most folks, anyway. Instead of putting so much emphasis on children being ballplayers, prudent parents would ensure equal, if not more, attention on academics and entrepreneurial skills.

To re-purpose a line from Patrick Ewing during the 1988 NBA lockout: The entrepreneurs who own NBA teams are spending a lot of money because they make a lot of money. And the current labor deal REQUIRES them to spend a certain amount, opposed to putting extra money in their pockets.

So, yes, a player such as Mike Conley seems wholly unqualified to have the biggest contract in NBA history ($153 million, slightly less than Vince Carter’s career earnings to date). And, yes, a player such as Matthew Delavedova seemingly has no right to possess a $38 million contract, just $5 million less than Paul George has earned in six seasons.

But that’s our capitalistic system at work, replete with effects of inflation, supply-and-demand, upswings, etc. The take-home pay in sports gets larger with each generation.

Just ask the owners.

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