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Why Don’t NFL and NBA Players Take Large Pay Cuts To Help Their Teams Win?

I heard Bill Simmons talking the other day about how difficult it is for the Lakers to build a substantive roster given their paying both Lebron and A.D. almost $50 million per year.

I couldn’t help but think about how odd that felt.

Lebron and the Lakers

First off, particularly in Lebron’s case, both of these men are already wealthier than most people could ever imagine. Lebron has an estimated net worth of around $1 billion, right, so is $50 million not a drop in the bucket relative to what he’s already made? Even though A.D. isn’t on that level, the same could be said about him to some degree.

I also thought about the fact that both of them are highly incentivized for their teams to win. This means they are incentivized to have lots of other good players on their team. This means the Lakers need to have lots of cap space to sign those players. Which means that maybe it wouldn’t be a great idea to maximize your own, personal financial situation knowing that it will actively handicap your front office and stifle your team’s chances of success?

When I said that they are incentivized for their teams to win, I meant that mostly in the literal, tangible sense. You know, the thought that winning is fun/enjoyable/worthwhile. But I’m fairly certain they’re financially incentivized to win too… in the long run. I’ll focus more on Lebron, now, since the absurdity of not taking a pay cut applies the most to him.

Let’s say theoretically the Lakers win another championship this year. That in and of itself would give Lebron a ton of extra legacy points, and would take his all-time status and make it even greater.

A theoretical, I don’t know, $20 million pay cut, for one season: would the money he makes on the back end of winning the championship not be greater than that in the long run? How many more sponsorships/commercials/documentaries could be shot with the added bonus of Lebron coming off a championship (at age 39, presumably with the Finals MVP)?

Even if we go outside the tangible box, does it not seem rational that adding another championship to his belt would yield more than that theoretical $20 million I threw out there? I’m no financial forecaster, but I wouldn’t be shocked if Lebron and A.D. are literally financially incentivized (in the long run) to take a pay cut.

NBA/NFL Players Are Wage Maximizers

This yields the realization that all NBA players are wage maximizers. All of them. The rookie from Ball State that just got signed to a 10-day? He’s a wage maximizer. And he should be. But Lebron James? Why?

Like a guy on the scout team of a special teams unit in the NFL, he has every rational reason to maximize his wage. He can get cut at any time. He can get injured at any time. He could be out of the league tomorrow. I can understand why he would put his personal, financial self-interest ahead of his team. It makes sense.

But Lebron is a literal billionaire. His days of making money also aren’t even remotely close to being over. It’s not like his NBA salary is the main chunk of his yearly earnings anyway.

I just can’t fathom why stars like him care more about $50 million than they do about… winning a championship. Forget the money piece for a second.

If you were Lebron, what would be more valuable? $50 million? Or the happiness/pride/joy/elation that comes with winning a title? What about the fact that a title would help him inch closer to Jordan on the all-time list (or inch further away?) I really don’t understand how/why absurdly wealthy professional athletes care more about a (relatively) arbitrary amount of money than they do about winning.

What Would Happen?

It begs an interesting question: would taking a pay cut that large even be allowed? What if Patrick Mahomes told the Chiefs that he wanted to play for the league minimum? Would that even be legal? Now that I think about it, I’m shocked that that hasn’t happened yet. And we see this situation all the time. There was a story the other day about Kevin Durant subtly complaining that the Suns don’t have enough depth/role players. Hmmm, how could that have happened, I wonder?

We literally see this situation all the time. So many NBA teams sign too many expensive guys and then they’re left with no money left over. It’s really common in the NFL, too, where teams have to make really difficult decisions about whether or not it’s worth it to fork over an absurd contract to one guy, knowing damn well it will stifle their chances at signing other good players.

It really would be a fascinating thing if it happened. Is that move morally wrong or right How would fans react? Would it cause a controversy/scandal? Is that closer to “cheating” or closer to “helping my team win”?

I doubt we’ll ever see the day when an athlete does that. And I think I know why.

The fact of the matter is that the salaries these players make aren’t just salaries, they’re units of comparison.

Player X signs a new contract for $20 million a year. Player Y thinks that he’s better than Player X, so when he enters free agency, he’s gonna make sure he gets a contract worth more than $20 million. This situation applies the most to when a new record contract is set. For example, Joe Burrow’s recent contract made him the highest-paid quarterback in NFL history. That number will be weaponized and referenced by the next stud quarterback that needs a new contract.

I don’t want to imply that all NBA and NFL athletes are motivated by their ego and sense of self, but I’m not sure where else this would come from. Taking that referenced pay cut would remove them from the competitive rat race that is trying to be the best player they can be. It’s just a shame because it represents the fact that most of these athletes care way more about the name on the back of the jersey than they do the one on the front (not to indulge in cliches, though).

Obviously, there are agents involved, so a player taking a pay cut isn’t always an independently made decision. So that counter-example is relatively fair. I just wish Tebow was still around, man. That guy would have volunteered to play for free.


Read more NFL news from Stadium Rant here: NFL News

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