Much of the owners' case in the current NBA lockout battle rests on the idea that players are overpaid, which cuts into franchise profits and threatens the league as a solvent business. Because of an absurd contract that will end up paying $118 million over six years, current Washington Wizards forward Rashard Lewis has become the poster boy for lavishly compensated basketball players around the country. He was a good player treated like a superstar because he happened to become a free agent at the right time, and that's a state of affairs that can't continue.
Of course, being overpaid isn't the same as being greedy. In fact, Lewis is perfectly willing to sacrifice some of his salary if it ends up helping out the league as a whole. From Michael Lee for The Washington Post (via SB Nation):
He could lose some or all of that money, depending on how long the lockout lasts, but the veteran forward fully supports the players' union and plans to do whatever it takes to ensure that future generations of NBA players can experience the same benefits past veterans fought for in the last labor dispute.
"I'm willing to sacrifice my salary to get a fair deal," Lewis said after playing a game with Washington Wizards teammates John Wall, Jordan Crawford and JaVale McGee here at the Impact Basketball Competitive Training Series. "It's only fair." [...]
"Talk to the owner. He gave me the deal," Lewis said. "When it comes to contracts, the players aren't sitting there negotiating that contract. I'm sitting at home and my agent calls me, saying, 'I got a max on the table.' I'm not going to sit there and say, 'Naw, that's too much. Go out there and negotiate $20 or $30 [million] less.' "
"I thought my agent did a good job of negotiating my contract, and at the time I was coming out of Seattle, averaging 23 points, playing well. It was perfect timing for me," Lewis continued. "At the same time, I understand the owners don't want to overpay players, but you've got to do better negotiating. Try your best to save money."
Lewis is making an argument here that makes intuitive sense: If someone offers you the maximum amount of money for your services, you are going to sign that contract. That's not a greedy argument -- it's just an obvious decision to make. People like money, because it allows you to purchase goods and services while gaining a measure of security for the future. I'm pretty sure that's the first you learn in Economics 101.
Again, what's important to note is that the desire to sign a large contract is not a sign of greed. Lewis was offered his current deal by the Orlando Magic in 2007 and he accepted it. It's possible to make a legitimate argument that any system that allows a player of his stature to earn that much money is fundamentally flawed. But it's unfair to make an emotional case based on one side being morally deficient. If Lewis crowed about making too little even as he failed to perform to the level of play suggested by his salary, then he would be greedy. He's doing nothing of the sort; he just wants to point out that he's making what he was offered.
There's a tendency in tough labor fights like this one to paint the one side as lacking scruples, which in turn means that they don't deserve the terms they're looking for in a potential deal. That's a load of hogwash: Lewis has proven that he's willing to acknowledge his own status as an overpaid player. He's not greedy. He just wants everyone to acknowledge that he's paid so much because Orlando offered it to him.
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