Tag Archives: Sports

NBA profits are not the result of “the market”

A few years ago it occurred to me that the absurd profits that flood the world of “marquee sports” are not the product of market forces so much as they are the product of ongoing, active distortion of market forces.

I happened to bury this minor epiphany in an offhand post speculating on Dwayne Wade’s work/life satisfaction, but since no one takes notice wherever I publish my work anyway, it seemed as well to just leave it there.

But, yesterday Vox saw fit to publish a work that basically dwells at length within this forest yet only sees the trees, so I suppose this is as good an occasion as any to raise my lone counterproposition to its own headline placement.

Briefly: Market distortions enrich the entire world of major league sports, on a fundamental level, to an extent that probably far exceeds the effect that smaller distortions have upon how the resultant “pie” is divided up.

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Basketball, Winning & Contentment

I have been thinking lately about the complexity of happiness, and how it so often differs from getting what we want. I feel like 2016 Cyclone men’s basketball is a wonderful illustration.

This past March, when Cyclone MBB ended its tournament run in the Sweet 16, I felt afterward like this was about as happy an ending for me as any possible. Basically because it felt like the team achieved all that was within reach.

Iowa State moved through the first two rounds—improving immediately upon a first-round upset loss last year—then exited after a game against an obviously superior opponent. I don’t remember the details, but the result was not a humiliation, nor was it close enough that I was left anguished that “they were so close, they had it, why couldn’t they finish?”

There was really no heartbreak element. Our guys reached a respectable plateau—the Sweet 16, surpassing more than 75% of all the other tournament teams—and the next step was just beyond them this year. Okay.

Of course, if offered it, I would have chosen more.

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The Economic Puzzles of Dwayne Wade

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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Opting out of the NFL

I may do a year-in-review post a bit later, but for the moment I feel like writing a bit about a minor item of 2014, in most ways: turning aside from the NFL.

I suppose the arc of my interest in the NFL spanned about 20 years. Up until high school I never took particular interest in sports, as participant or spectator. Then… peer pressure, I guess? I wasn’t drinking, smoking or taking part in any other illicit activities, but I also wasn’t comfortable with isolating myself completely from the mainstream of my peers. Adopting a team* popular among some of their number worked for me.

I think the NFL must have been the first sport/league of which I really developed a functional understanding. The NES classic Tecmo Super Bowl was undoubtedly a great help here. The 1990 season has remained my baseline for evaluating NFL affairs ever since, in a lot of ways. I still bust out this 8-bit masterpiece from time to time, too. I played a couple games of “Tecmo” just last night in fact.

In 2014, though, that has been about it for NFL stuff.

After 20 years, I simply did not return from the (period formerly known as the) off-season this year. Just didn’t really feel like it.

There is no one reason, as usual. The revolting spectacle of millionaires vs billionaires in a greed-off a couple of years ago was probably a big shove. Since then, as most observers would acknowledge, the NFL has been through a series of scandals adequate to prompt “will football survive” essays. The league’s predictable stonewalling has not exactly fed or watered my enthusiasm for it, nor has the continued extortion, by millionaires and billionaires, of public money.

I should emphasize that I don’t regard dropping out of NFL nation as a test of moral superiority. I have abandoned neither college football nor the NBA, each of which shares more than one of the NFL’s offenses. I can quibble about how the NFL seems worse, when all is added up, but the difference is ultimately quantitative rather than qualitative; if it’s wrong to be a fan of the NFL then it’s wrong to be a fan of those other entertainments. I can’t go quite that far. All of them are compromised, certainly, but we live brief lives in a fundamentally compromised world, and on the list of Evils that People Should Stop Enabling, the NFL is a long way from the top. Even I don’t make it through the day on virtue and righteousness alone; if the NFL makes existence a bit more bearable for you, I think “go right ahead” is an entirely valid answer.

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Dear Cyclone football: never back down

I was sightseeing in Chicago over the weekend, so I missed the Big Game. My brother called immediately afterward and provided a recap, though, and what a sweet sequence of events. ISU prevailed, plus, ISU prevailed as a direct result of Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz outsmarting himself. Whooops. Thanks, U of I campus police, for this apt summary:

Coach Rhoads roars with laughter as Ferentz looks on… yep, that about sums it up

Bwa ha ha

Reading afterward, though, I noticed that the Des Moines Register was making noises about ending this series. It seems to be a bit more than just a daft Randy Peterson idea, also. Not only were fan reactions mixed, but the relevant officials seemed less than committed to sustaining this rivalry.

I could spend time deconstructing this, but I just want to make one point, for whatever my opinion is worth: if and when this series is interrupted (again), it should not happen with any formal approval from ISU. Ignore Peterson’s arguments that halting The Big Game would be to Cyclones’ advantage. Don’t give the Hawks cover, guys. If they want to cop out, fine. If they want to offer up excuses, claim that it has never been important to them, revive the arrogant and now ludicrous muttering about “quality” opponents, fine. That’s their business.

But please, Cyclone football, make it clear that ISU stands ready to challenge the Hawks any time, anywhere (in a manner of speaking, at least, since college football games follow a fixed schedule negotiated well in advance). Do that, and honor will be ours no matter what, no matter the result of any “last game” before Iowa slinks off to seek wins elsewhere.

We will never surrender.