A common refrain during the frenzied start of NBA free agency has been to point at the massive contracts being doled out and get either outraged, frustrated or both.
This is not a phenomenon limited to the NBA, but it feels particularly stark this year given the jump in salary cap and the corresponding salaries we are seeing.
Granted, this would be an excellent time to be a lot more coordinated and, say, a foot taller. Even the merely average among the very elite basketball players in the world are cashing in. That said, there are several things we need to keep in mind when we express certain types of anger in all this:
• The salary cap jumped from $70 million to $94 million between last year and this upcoming season thanks to a massive nine-year, $24 billion contract between the NBA and its TV partners.
While this huge leap is causing some distorted numbers relative to what we’re used to seeing for a certain type of player, it’s also much better for the players to be getting paid more than for owners to merely be allowed to pocket the extra profits.
For an example: Major League Baseball, which has no salary cap — and more importantly no salary floor, or minimum a team must spend — had a giant new TV deal go into effect in 2014. Owners are under no obligation to spend that extra money on players. According to Fangraphs.com, the percentage of league revenue going to players has declined by roughly 15 percent in the last dozen or so years.
• Andrew Luck just signed the biggest contract in NFL history: $140 million over six years, with $87 million guaranteed. Countless NBA free agents this offseason will surpass Luck’s guaranteed money, since NBA contracts are fully guaranteed.
You have the right to be upset that Hassan Whiteside has a better contract than Luck, but this is the byproduct of the bad labor agreement the NFL players have agreed to, not a failing of the NBA.
• In general, isn’t it odd that we get so worked up about athletes’ salaries but barely pay attention to what, say, actors or CEOs make?
Per statisticbrain.com, for instance, Leonardo DiCaprio has made at least $20 million for nine separate films he has starred in.
Per the most recent data published by the New York Times and Equilar, there were eight CEOs at public U.S. companies who earned more than $40 million in compensation in the last year — and 53 earned at least $20 million.
• The best question to ask is this one: is this sustainable? With more people dropping cable and satellite TV subscriptions — per Businessinsider.com, fewer than 90 million homes now have ESPN, down more than 10 million viewers from its peak — it’s not hard to imagine a much different landscape when major long-term league TV contracts are up for renewal the next time.
If that money fades, the salary cap will go down. So for now, everyone is cashing in. Down the road, it might be a far different story.