It is a weird conundrum. Amongst friends and even strangers, salaries and earnings are rarely discussed in just about any culture. Not even is it considered gauche to outright ask what another person pulls in during a year, but even tangential discussions about insurance premiums, mortgage rates, or month to month bill payments are considered taboo. And rightfully so.
Yet the yearly salaries of professional athletes are basic knowledge for the avid or even minor sports fan. We haven’t heard a single NBA athlete specifically refer to his earnings on record in our entire time spent covering the sport, and yet you and every other member of the Bulls, Timberwolves, Knicks and Lakers’ message boards knows exactly how much money Carlos Boozer is owed next season ($16.8 million) even if he is waived by Chicago.
Speaking to Robert Craddock of Australian’s Courier Mail recently, Golden State Warriors center Andrew Bogut spoke up, if not necessarily out, about the oddity:
In the US, professional sportsmen have their wages published. Does that create problems?
That’s the issue. You play on a team and you have got two blokes who are free agents at the end of the year and they are trying to get their numbers up. They want to get paid the next year and, on top of that, you are trying to win games and keep team camaraderie.
What do you think of your salary being made public?
I disagree with the publishing of figures. The big paper in the States, The USA Today, actually has a lift-out every three or four months which has every professional athlete’s salary in every sport in America. You have a bunch of women cutting that out and following guys around at night clubs. It just creates a plethora of problems.
Bogut is correct about USA Today – before and even during the advent of the internet, the newspaper’s yearly NBA salaries list (usually released somewhere in the middle of the season) was something you’d typically buy two copies of, and keep around until the next year’s list came out.
Getting away from the idea of a contract year or the groupie and/or hangers-on situation, the idea that we know exactly how much money Andrew Bogut is being paid this season ($14 million) and next ($12.9 million) and for the duration of his contract (two more years after that at just over $23 million) is a bit odd, but it’s essential.
It is strange that every salary is known, because every single NBA team goes out of its way to decline to specify the terms or length of a contract in their individual press releases. Almost immediately – via player, front office, or agent – the information will leak out to the media. From there, it gets compiled by the immaculate hand of Mark Deeks or the minds behind Basketball-Reference; or, in this geezer’s day, the wonderful Patricia Bender.
Why? Well, as the NBA has involved, knowing such things becomes more and more important.
It’s not about the novelty of Bill Russell making exactly a dollar more per season than Wilt Chamberlain, or the length of Magic Johnson’s 25-year contract, or the early 1990s weirdness that led to Jon Koncak and Hot Rod Williams making more per season than Michael Jordan. These days, it’s about formulating trades (for most NBA trading partners, especially midseason, the total current-year amount of the contracts have to closely resemble the other team’s offerings), understanding how well your team will be able to add free agents in the summer, and why your team might be declining to take on salary while in fear of the NBA’s luxury tax.
It’s true that players will perk their ears up during contract years, but as the NBA has become smarter and smarter and with the participants becoming ever more scrutinized, playing for stats and eventual cash isn’t nearly as big a problem as it was some 30-odd years ago. The groupie inference is true, there are entire message boards and online communities devoted to these sorts of things, but that’s just a function of the gig that has been made all the more easier by the internet’s continued growth – baseball players in the 1930s dealt with their era’s best attempts at those sort of lascivious, money-focused maneuvers.
Andrew Bogut isn’t boo-hooing the problem all that much, he’s likely well aware of the sort of trade off inherent in making $14 million this season and having just about every fan know it. Fans want to be smarter about the sport they love, and to do so (while drawing up dozens of hypothetical trades or planning for the perfect free agent summer) fans need information – and in the end it’s good for the fan to know that Andrew Bogut’s contract decreases each year, Klay Thompson is still on his rookie contract but could sign a maximum contract extension with his market value this fall, and that even with a four-year $44 million deal to his name, Stephen Curry remains one of the NBA’s great bargains.
It’s part of the give and take, and though the NBA doesn’t official sponsor such knowledge, we welcome the information.
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