Conversations about professional athletes’ salaries hold a strange fascination for me. Probably because they are, fundamentally, strange; where else in our society do we have anything like this? When else do Americans discuss money and merit, ownership and labor, “fairness,” and the limitations of income-maximization as motive, in contexts that are frank, detailed, personal and public? Wrangling to assemble an elite team in leagues with both free agency and a salary cap has become a completely ordinary part of sports comment, no different from starting lineups or officiating. Then there’s the odd fact that one of the most vibrant and assertive examples of organized labor pressure left in America involves wealthy athletes, many of them multimillionaires, as its worker side of class struggle.
Of course this is interesting. Sometimes disgusting, and still interesting anyway.
Recently, one particular salary storyline has been nagging at me; I believe I have finally teased out an insight or two worth recording. In recent weeks Miami Heat guard Dwayne Wade has been signaling dissatisfaction with Heat owner Pat Riley’s salary offering. One can read further detail elsewhere, but basically I feel like a reader comment on one story summed things up best. After Dave Hyde referred to Wade’s “sacrifices” over his Heat career, erikszpyra asked “What past sacrifices really? The man has made over $100 million in contracts and endorsements from basketball, along with 5 trips to the Finals with 3 rings. What did Wade give up that warrants crippling the Heats [sic] chance to rebuild?”
Now, this situation by itself is just par for the course with pro sports coverage. Few phenomena have ever provided more perfect or obvious demonstrations of the obnoxious remark that, once one is securely rich, “money is just how you keep score.” Still, I can’t help marveling at what seems like a massive instance of missing the whole point. Dwayne Wade certainly has “fuck-you money” many times over, and from a working class perspective it seems like he should be long past the point of spending even a second caring about more money, and simply doing whatever he wants with his life. I’m familiar with the “hierarchy of needs,” yet I still can’t help asking, why is he expending effort on this? Why not just forget it, and live life on his terms? He’s competitive and likes to win, fine, great; consider what really constitutes winning in life. If he wants to play basketball, just play basketball.
It’s possible to think of reasons why Wade might want something that even his current wealth can’t purchase. That’s always possible. Absent any information to this effect, though, I will presume that he is not driven by aspirations to build the world’s largest pyramid or start his own space program. Likewise, it’s possible that Wade is fanatically dedicated to some charitable or activist cause, and eager to wrench as much money as possible away from less selfless rich people so that he can direct it to a disadvantaged population instead. If so, I submit that we definitely ought to read more about this, as such an example is at the very least worthy of popular discussion. Nonetheless, absent evidence, I presume that this does not explain Wade’s anxiety about getting more money while financially able to satisfy most personal needs for many lifetimes.
My impression is that, basically, getting more money is a significant part of what Dwayne Wade wants to do with his life right now.
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