Mega money in sports has a dwindling interest rate
BY DAN McGRATH For Sun-Times Media July 12, 2014 12:36AM
Carmelo Anthony could make $73 million over four years with the Bulls, a sum that’s especially staggering when you think about struggling Chicago schools. | Seth Wenig/AP
Updated: August 14, 2014 6:27AM
It’s scary to think that a head-shot photo in a newspaper could imply knowledge or wisdom.
A guy in my building recognized me from the aforementioned picture the other day and, after recoiling at how homely I am in person, sought my take on the Carmelo Anthony situation.
I had the Bulls in third place and fading, which is not what he wanted to hear. He wasn’t as interested in my reasoning as he was in my finishing so he could tell me how wrong I was and how the Bulls were the only destination that made sense.
‘‘This guy knows more than I do,’’ I thought as I walked away. ‘‘And he cares way more.’’
It happens these days. I don’t follow sports as meticulously as I used to because I have another job that demands a lot of time and energy. And I don’t care as much because the Monopoly-money economics that dominate every level are squeezing the life out of sports for me.
Melo would have made ‘‘only’’ $73 million over four years had he signed with the Bulls, whereas the New York Knicks can pay him $129 million over five years. To play basketball.
The word ‘‘sacrifice’’ was used in stories describing how Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh were opting out of their contracts to allow the cap-strapped Miami Heat room to add more talent. They were willing to play for $14 million a year instead of $21 million, but they’d recoup the money by signing for more years. How noble.
It’s not just basketball. Jeff Samardzija’s ‘‘camp’’ — high-level diplomacy here — is said to have turned down $70 million over five years for a pitcher with 32 big-league victories. And while there’s no debating who’s responsible for the Blackhawks’ resurgence, you have to wonder what Bobby Hull and Stan Mikita thought upon hearing Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane had signed for eight years and $84 million apiece.
What LeBron James is doing to restore the self-esteem of chronically abused Cleveland is very cool, and not out of character. But it’s not selfless. The Cavaliers will pay him about $22 million a year, for starters, and the effect on his ‘‘brand’’ will be incalculable as he sheds the label of self-absorbed diva he has worn since his horribly misguided ‘‘Decision’’ four years ago.
Another billionaire athlete? Probably.
Sports billionaires are more commonly found in the owners’ suites, and it’s fair to say they are ones driving this surreal spending. Steve Ballmer, by reputation one of the shrewdest businessmen in the world owing to his Microsoft stewardship, is trying to pay $2 billion for the Los Angeles Clippers. Before Blake Griffin, Chris Paul and Doc Rivers showed up, the Clippers were a long-running NBA joke, Cub-like in their futility and presided over by an evil misanthrope. Now they’re worth $2 billion because somebody wants to pay $2 billion for the privilege of owning them.
Imagine what $2 billion could do for Los Angeles’ schools.
A fair question, but sadly irrelevant to this discussion.
Jackie Sherrill was the first of the carpetbagging coaches to stir up righteous indignation when a then-unheard-of $275,000 salary offer prompted him to leave Pittsburgh for Texas A&M in 1982. Sherrill had a simple answer when asked how it was that a football coach was a university’s highest paid employee.
‘‘Eighty thousand people don’t buy tickets to watch somebody teach chemistry,’’ Sherrill said.
I get that, but I still view this disillusionment through the prism of schools because I work at one that battles to keep its doors open and be of service to some truly disadvantaged areas of the city. The Bulls could fund Leo High School for about 70 years with that Melo money.
This isn’t meant as a grumpy ‘‘back in my day’’ rumination because money has called the tune in pro sports forever — Bobby Hull didn’t jump to the Winnipeg Jets for the weather.
This fantasy money distorts kids’ values and expectations. One of our best at Leo was 11th man on the freshman basketball team. He’s going to top out at about 5-4, and he’s not Muggsy Bogues. But he believes he’s going to Duke to play basketball, and then to the NBA to take care of his family.
Not to shatter his dreams, but I tell him he’s better suited to cover NBA ball than he is to play it. He won’t star in commercials, and he probably won’t marry his generation’s La La or Zsa Zsa, but he can have a nice life.