Friday, July 9, 2010

The LeBron A Thon

Before the advent of free agency in professional sports athletes were "owned" by the teams that drafted them or acquired them through trades. Player rosters would change a little year to year, but for the most part, teams stayed intact. Alas, the realities of the economics of professional sports led owners to concede that if they wanted to continue to operate in light of television-fueled revenues they would have to share the pie and allow players some freedom to move from team to team and cash in on their value.

Over time the stakes have risen to the point where now a player with the skills and market value of a LeBron James can now plan for their own future, determine what team they want to play for and cut the best deal they can. James is not a villain for abandoning his home state and heading for South Beach, he is the beneficiary of the realities of what professional sports, and even amateur sports have become; big, big business. Who can fault this gifted 25 year old, or anyone else, for that matter who recognizes that they are a commodity and should get as much as they can, while they can.

Professional athletes are unique, to say the least. Having played sports all of my youth I can count on one hand the number of players I shared a field with who ever made a professional roster. We are talking a minute percentage of individuals who have the skill and luck to make it through the sifting process and persevere. Even if one gets to the "show" they are still confronted with the specter of injury and competition from below. The athlete that plays professionally into their mid thirties is an anomaly. Most athletes have relatively short careers and pay the price later in life in the form of pain and often crippling injuries.

Whenever I hear someone bemoan the high salaries of these spoiled superstars I suggest that they go to the nearest batting cage and try to lay the wood on a 90 mile an hour fastball from the pitching machine. Now imagine that the ball darts at the last hundredth of second or that the next pitch changes speed dramatically. Whatever these players get they deserve.

Don't feel any sorrow for the ownership of these teams. Most professional sports franchises are owned by savvy business people and corporations who understand that for every dollar they pay a player of Jame's caliber they are going to make several in return. If a stadium sells out to twenty thousand fans at an average of $50.00 per ticket that is one million big ones. Now add in concessions, parking, advertising revenue, TV rights and such and it is not unusual to estimate that a successful NBA team can gross in excess of 150 to 180 million a year in revenue. All of a sudden the sixteen million or so that James will be paid seems like a bargain. Also consider that sports franchises appreciate in value, especially for those fortunate enough to own their own stadiums.

Of course fans are the pawns in all this. Hungry for distraction and relief from the realities of life, most of us enjoy following a favorite team and partaking in the soap opera that evolves from season to season. Living in Chicago and being a life-long Cubs fan, no one knows sports soap opera better than I. As a kid I was awed by the Cubs. I followed them religiously, memorized player stats and couldn't sleep the night before my father would take me to games at Wrigley Field. Sadly, we all grow up and as adults should realize that our allegiance is to a corporate monster that masquerades as something cute and cuddly like a Cub. I haven't paid for a Cubs ticket in fifteen years and only attended games in recent years when someone gave me tickets. I don't buy foam fingers or replica jerseys and unless the team is in contention and playing well I find other ways to spend my time.

James, like a lot of athletes serves a higher purpose if one wishes to observe. Like Tiger Woods, James has shown us the reality, pulled back the curtain, and given a good object lesson about life. I see sports now as having little value except as intermittent diversion and an open forum about human nature on the fringes. I will observe with keen interest the fallout from James decision to go to South Beach and how he will deal with the wrath from the venues, especially Ohio, that he has spurned. He has, indeed, pulled back the curtain and showed us that he is no wizard and that he would rather live in Oz than head back to tornado stricken Kansas. We can thank him for not perpetrating the fraud that he somehow cares about his people and his roots. As in the case of Tiger Woods, we are given ample evidence that to excel at professional sports it takes a lot of self -love and a Godzilla-sized ego. These are not role-models except to the extent that they do provide a model of how to succeed in the greed governed world of business, me first, take what you can when you can. James hollow gesture of donating advertising revenue from his "decision" show was pathetic. Woods televised mea culpa a laugh riot. As an adult I can now appreciate that the curtain has been drawn back to the point where we all know there is no Oz. There is little pretense here, the truth is out. Instead of acknowledging the losers on ESPN in the decision derby, James could have just given us all the finger and his public image could not have suffered more. Here's your role model, long live the King. I can imagine it is only a matter of time till Tiger, unable to change his strips, ala OJ, is in the tabloids again snaking around with some guttersnipe or pole dancer.

Yes, the truth is out there, thanks guys for the sports entertainment.

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