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Michele Roberts: NBA superstars are most underpaid professional athletes


One NBA player – Kobe Bryant – makes at least $25 million. Five Major League Baseball players do.

Nine NBA players make at least $20 million. Twenty-five MLB players do.

Thirty-three NBA players make at least $15 million. Fifty-six MLB players do.

Are NBA stars the most underpaid athletes in professional sports?

National Basketball Players Association executive director Michele Roberts, via The Vertical Podcast with Woj:

As long we understand I’m not negotiating, the answer is yes. And I don’t think that’s even debatable. These guys are enormously undervalued, and I hope that that’s not a secret, because it’s certainly the truth.

Basketball players are the most recognizable athletes, I think, on the planet. I’ve travelled now to a couple of games outside of the country, and I almost wish that people could see how these guys are rock stars – not just here, but they are rock stars all over the world. Now, television helps. But it is just astounding to me how much love and regard people have for them, both because of their athletic prowess, but because, some of our players, because they’re just great men.

And so, someone asked me how much I thought LeBron was worth, and I said he was worth his weight in gold. And then someone pointed out how much gold and said far more than that. And I said, “OK, you’re right. Going to get me fired.”

But, yeah, they are.

Roberts’ opening refers to an apparent pledge between the union and NBA not to negotiate the Collective Bargaining Agreement through the media. I’m more interested in whether she’s right.

NBA stars are extremely recognizable relative to their counterparts in other sports, because they don’t wear helmets or hats. Seeing someone’s face matters a great deal in their marketability. NFL quarterbacks are the only group to regularly overcome that equipment disparity, and their pay reflects it.

But MLB teams play 162 games per season to 82 for NBA teams. That’s nearly twice as many opportunities to sell tickets and merchandise, and that’s why there’s so much money in baseball.

Baseball also benefits from a strong union, which has fought off a salary cap. Perhaps, Roberts will strengthen NBA players’ position, though I’d be completely shocked if the league dropped its salary cap.

However, the NBA salary cap means only so much for stars. The bigger issue is max contracts, of which Roberts has said, “the premise offends me.”

A basketball star is more valuable to his team than a baseball, football or hockey star simply because of the sports’ setups. Being one of 10 players on the court/field – fewer than football (22), baseball (10-13) and hockey (12 minus penalties) – allows for a greater impact. Basketball stars can dominate the ball and guard the opponent’s best player. Baseball players must take turns through the batting order. Football players play just half the time, offense or defense. Hockey is too taxing too allow as much time on the ice for any individual.

But the NBA’s max salary prevents stars from earning their just due, instead funneling money to mid-level veterans. If their were no individual cap on salaries, the distribution of money would look much different (and better reflect true value). Stars would earn more and mid-level veterans less.

So, in many ways, NBA stars are underpaid.

One potential rival: Productive and popular non-quarterbacks in the NFL. Again, helmets limit the marketability of football players, but a few non-quarterbacks have cracked that barrier. Yet, those players don’t even have guaranteed contracts, and they play the most dangerous sport of the four majors – a productive of their weak union.

There’s another flaw in Roberts’ argument, too.

NBA players – including stars – are overpaid because NBA owners so often receive handouts from local governments for stadium costs. If public money weren’t given to multimillion-dollar – sometimes, multibillion-dollar – sports teams, owners would have to trim costs or raise revenue elsewhere to fund stadiums that they profit from. A logical starting point: reducing player salaries.

I’m all for someone earning what the market will bear. But when the pool of money is enhanced by backroom deals with politicians, that’s not the market at work.

Of course, all major professional sports leagues benefit from this redistribution of money from taxpayers to billionaire owners (with few proven benefits to the public). The NBA has done well for itself in this domain, but the league is not alone.

NBA player salaries will rise next season thanks to the new national TV contracts, and that will bring NBA stars closer to their MLB counterparts. But the a higher salary cap without addressing the individual max will still leave NBA stars underpaid relative to other NBA players based on value.

Will the union push to eliminate or raise the individual max? We know where Roberts’ stands.

Will her constituents – more of whom are mid-level veterans than stars – support this push?

Mark Cuban says no Mavericks player will wear No. 24 again in honor of Kobe

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Kobe Bryant never suited up for the Dallas Mavericks, but his impact on the NBA and Mark Cuban is undeniable.

As a tribute to Kobe — who died in a helicopter crash Sunday along with his 13-year-old daughter Gianna and seven others — the Mavericks’ owner announced that no player will wear No. 24 for the Mavericks again.

Kobe was a nemesis of the Mavericks — back in 2005 he scored 62 points on them in three quarters, outscoring the entire Mavericks’ team’s 61 points — but had earned the respect of their players. And owner. Cuban was part of a league-wide outpouring of both shock and love for Bryant upon the news of his untimely death.

Five Mavericks players have worn No. 24 before: Mark Aguirre (1982-1989), Jim Jackson (1993-1997), Hubert Davis (1998-2001), Pavel Podkolzin (2005-2006), and most recently Richard Jefferson (2015).

He will be the last.

Shaquille O’Neal says he’s ‘SICK’ over losing his brother, Kobe Bryant

Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O'Neal
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Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal will always be linked – as champions, as enemies and eventually as friends.

The historically great combination led the Lakers to a threepeat from 2000-2002. Their egos were too large for one team and, eventually, they broke up. But later in life, their bond – built through shared experiences – prevailed over distant grievances.

In the wake of Bryant’s tragic death, O’Neal shared his sorrow:

These photos span 17 years. Bryant and O’Neal went through so much together.

They were just settling into the next phase of their relationship – poking at each other while knowing an underlying affection existed. Disagreements had become more fun than biting.

It’s such a shame their ever-evolving relationship gets undercut so soon.

Michael Jordan: ‘Words can’t describe the pain I’m feeling. I loved Kobe’

Kobe Bryant and Michael Jordan
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Kobe Bryant grew up idolizing Michael Jordan. Bryant styled his game after Jordan. Bryant even wanted to sign with Jordan’s Wizards. Though they never became teammates, Bryant still developed a brotherly relationship with Jordan.

In the wake of Bryant’s tragic death, Jordan shared a heartfelt message.

Bryant once said he wanted Jordan or Phil Jackson to present him at the Basketball Hall of Fame. It’s unbelievably sad Bryant’s impending induction will come posthumously. But Jordan would be such a fitting speaker about his brother.

Kobe Bryant, daughter die in helicopter crash

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Kobe Bryant, the legendary Laker star who was saluted by LeBron James on Saturday night, has died in a helicopter crash in Southern California.

The crash took place in Calabasas, an area about 30 miles northwest of the Staples Center, where Kobe starred as a player for more than a decade. It is not far from the Mamba Academy athletic training center where Kobe was both an owner and an active participant, and where he was reportedly headed to coach his daughter’s game.

The crash killed nine people, of which Kobe was one.

Kobe was 41. He and his wife Vanessa have four daughters. Kobe’s 13-year-old daughter Gianna was aboard the helicopter with Kobe (they were on their way to one of her basketball games, along with a fellow teammate of Gianna’s and her parent).

His death sent waves of sadness and shock around the NBA and beyond.

Bryant starred for 20 years in NBA

Kobe had a 20-year NBA career that will send him to the Hall of Fame (once he becomes eligible). He was a five-time NBA Champion, a 15-time All-NBA player, NBA MVP, two-time scoring champion, two-time Finals MVP, 18-time All-Star, a two-time Gold Medalist for Team USA, and a player who influenced a generation who came up after him. His work ethic was legendary and was part of what rubbed off on LeBron and many others.

He teamed with Shaquille O’Neal in a combustible partnership to lead the Lakers to NBA titles in 2000, 2001 and 2002. He later teamed with Pau Gasol to win two more titles in 2009 and 2010.

Bryant retired in 2016 after scoring 60 points in his final NBA game.

He stepped away from the game and focused on storytelling, which helped him win an Oscar in 2018 for the animated short “Dear Basketball.”

Kobe became synonymous with the Lakers and their brand — the loyalty Kobe generated with his fans was unmatched in the modern NBA.

Kobe’s death came just a day after LeBron passed him for third All-Time in NBA scoring.  LeBron talked about how he had grown up idolizing Kobe and the influence Kobe had on his life. Kobe’s last Tweet was about LeBron and, appropriately, the future of the game.

More details on the crash

From the AP story on his death:

Juan Bonilla of Calabasas said he was working on his roof Sunday morning when he heard a helicopter flying low nearby. He said he thought it was a sheriff’s helicopter on a training mission. He heard nothing amiss with the engine or rotors and said he did not see any mechanical issue with the chopper. It was foggy Sunday morning, but he said visibility didn’t seem to be low at the time of the crash.

Firefighters worked to douse flames that spread through about an acre (.40 hectares) of dry brush, said Art Marrujo, a dispatch supervisor with the Los Angeles County Fire Department.

Federal Aviation Administration spokesman Allen Kenitzer said the downed chopper was a Sikorsky S-76.

The National Transportation Safety Board sent a “go team” of investigators to the site. The NTSB typically issues a preliminary report within about 10 days that will give a rough summary of what investigators have learned. A ruling on the cause can take a year or more.

“They will look at man, machine and environment,” said Gary C. Robb, an aviation attorney in Kansas City who wrote a textbook on helicopter-crash litigation.

“They will look at the pilot – was there any indication of fatigue, any indication of a training issue?They’ll scour his or her record,” Robb said. “They will look at this helicopter from stem to stern. They will take the engine to the NTSB metallurgical laboratory outside Washington, D.C., and examine it to see if there was something that malfunctioned in flight.”

Investigators will also consider what role might have been played by weather, terrain, radio towers or bird strikes, he said.

Robb said he has handled many cases involving Sikorsky S-76 crashes and regards the machine as having a good reputation.

“It is generally regarded as a good helicopter with a good safety record,” he said, “but parts fail, parts break. Anything can happen.”