Sunday, April 27, 2014

Why are we surprised by Donald Sterling?

Oh, yeah, I know what you are going to say..."He owns an NBA team with a majority of players who are black.  Most of the people who make money for him are black..."  Okay, so exactly HOW does that make it surprising that this man is a racist?  

In the 1860s, in the deep South, black men made white men very rich - but those white men called the black men "animals" and perpetuated myths about him that still haunt and stereotype. Those stereotypes and myths are still at work in the mind of men like Donald Sterling. It doesn't make a man less racist just because he owns a multi-billion dollar professional basketball team and pays his players fairly well. He still can see them as property, and will use them until they are used up. 

I love basketball.  Actually, I love all sports, but I played basketball in my younger days and so I have a special understanding of the sport. Until 1995 (when the babies were put on the court), I watched the NBA religiously - and I followed coaches more than players or teams.  The reason is because a good coach can take a group of people who have many differences and personalities, and who might dislike one another intensely - and he or she can give those players a common goal and purpose that will unite them and overcome those barriers. A good coach knows his players, and he sees them as individuals with strengths to bring to the team. You won't find a good coach who cares whether his players are black, white, brown, purple or polka-dotted.  If they can play, and they can unite behind a shared goal of winning, then he wants them on his team.  

Team owners...well, that's different. First and foremost in most of their minds is the money that will be made from the team - the ticket sales, the merchandise sales and the nice little perks that come from location in a particular city. Now, if you look at the owners of the NBA teams, you will see that these men are already rich - but with these teams, they get filty rich.  Let's consider, for a moment, the Maloof family - who until last year owned the Sacramento Kings. This is from the Wages of Wins website:

                                The Maloofs bought the Kings from Jim Thomas in January 1999 for $156                           million. Adjusted for inflation, this would be about $215 million. If the Kings are valued at $525 million, and the Maloof family owns a53% share, then the Maloofs stand to earn about $278.3 million from this sale, a tidy profit of about $63.3 million. Add it all up, and the Maloofs have made around $109 million during the period of their 14-year majority ownership. On a yearly basis, this amounts to $7.8 million a year.
As a point of comparison, the average salary of an NBA player is somewhere around $5 million a year ($2006362672 in NBA salaries divided by 445 players gives us $4.5 million, actually, but we’ll be generous). This figure is highly skewed by a few highly-compensated players; the median salary for an NBA player is more like $2 million a year. So the Maloof family made about four times the salary of a typical NBA player over their 14-year ownership.
This is the amount a family made by owning a team that is not considered one of the most valuable in the NBA.  Can you imagine what is made by the owners of more successful teams? Think about the fact that the profit is AFTER paying those million dollar salaries to players. Those players' salaries are just a drop in the bucket to the big money that is in the reservoir.  So, why would the owners really be interested in what happens to their money-generating employee when they can find another one? And in the NBA, the talent pool is all emcompassing, because a kid only needs to be 19 before he can earn millions by showing off his talent - so who cares if he is immature, unready to face responsibility for his money and actions? Hey, it's all about talent, right?  Shouldn't the owners get the "best" to play, even if they are still just children? And that is what the owners bank on - and take to the bank.  They want the newest, the best and the most controversial...why?  Because that puts butts in seats, fills arenas and puts more money in their wallets. 
Look at this statistic - from a 2012 report - 60% of NBA players file for bankruptcy within 5 years of retirement. The average career of an NBA player is 4.8 years. I know that we can all point to the careers of the greats - Kareem Abdul Jabbar, John Stockton, Karl Malone, Reggie Miller - that lasted for decades.  But for the average player, that doesn't happen. Once their newness wears off, their tirades get too unmanageable, their talent gets outshined by a new prospect, or their body just can't take the punishment - then they are cast aside. They are left with pretty much nothing - because most of them have not gotten to the "top" by themselves.  They have carried family, friends, friends of friends, agents, girlfriends, mothers of their children and even strangers along with them.  The millions that they have been paid have been given to others who "depend" on them. And...for some of them, this comes at 30...35...40. So, how do they make money? What career do they pursue? But whose problem is that?
The owners don't see it as their problem.  If they did, then they would find a way to educate the players about the problems and pressures of being a professional athlete.  They would invest in the player to bring about a better understanding of how to conduct business, behavior and...basketball.  But this isn't about the game...as sad as that is to realize.  It is about having a product...and a market.  It is about love of the sport, but more love of money.  And, ultimately, it is about one person seeing another as property.
Okay, so I am NOT saying that professional basketball is as horrible as the social cancer of slavery. And I am definitely NOT saying that all NBA owners are racists.  What I am saying is that it shouldn't be surprising that there is one in the bunch. Because once you get passed the love of the game...it is about money, and about how another person can do the work while they get rich.