Hooray For MJ

Michael Jordan was never one for words, unless you happened to be guarding him. He had his way with words as a trash-talker. After a game, glad or sad, he said what he had to say in a minimalist fashion. He was the same when it came to business and social action. The two weeks ago, with his “I can remain silent no longer” announcement, he changed that–big time.

Jordan, as Bernie Sanders would say is a “‘uuugely” successful businessman, on top of being a “‘uuugely successful multi-media personality (basketball, endorsements, autographs) announced that something had to be done about cops killing black people and about black people killing cops. He chose education as the something and was smart enough to know he didn’t know what kind of education, so he donated one million dollars each to the NAACP Legal Defense Fund and the International Chiefs of Police Association’s Institute for Community-Police Relations. The question is what happens next? And I don’t mean with the money.

Basketball is a team sport. “MJ” didn’t become great until he had a team around him and he learned to play with it and it with him. When he became an all-round threat, when he passed the ball, sometimes in incredible ways, when he crashed the boards to follow up his shot, or a teammate’s, providing another body and often an unexpected one, under the boards, when he became a master student of the game and was directing things on the court, he went from a superior talent to a brilliant player.

Basketball, at this point in its history has become a predominantly black sport. It once was an all white and then a mostly white sport. As globalization of the game has continued, the mix change, but right now, but for a few, the name brands on the floor, the bodies that power the engines of the game are predominantly black.

Something else has happened in basketball. When I was a kid baseball players mostly had two jobs, baseball and something in the off-season to make ends meet. Basketball players were paid even less. The pay scales have gone through the roof in professional sports, so much so that mediocre ball players make a lot of money. Stars make stupefying  amounts of money. The starting salary for a rookie in the NBA is a paltry half a mil and change, most of us could do nicely on that. However, if one were working at the federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour, according to “HoopsHype,” a person would have to work  8 years and 71 days–non stop to make that much money! Oh and by the way, by contract it goes up every year.

Here are some examples of top salaries from 2015-16 from Wikipedia. I’ve rounded them to the nearest million:

Kobe Bryant $25 million

Lebron James $23 million

Carmelo Anthony $23 million

Dwight Howard $22 million

Chris Bosh $22 million

Chris Paul $21 million

Kevin Durant $20 million (This will sky rocket because of his free-agency)

The numbers themselves are deceiving. Contracts have signing and other bonuses, targets, and run often well beyond the playing life of the player. Nor does this take into account endorsement money, speaking engagement fees, “stand around and kibbitz with the no-bodies” fees, etc

And yet there are the whiners like the unnamed player who complained his $6 million contract would create a “hardship” for his family. I can’t remember hearing any ball player, of any color, ever saying, “$ 20 million? That’s great, that’s plenty! Let’s go play ball.” Nor am I ever likely to hear it in part because of the sky-scraper egos that get warped over a few hundred grand here or there compared to someone else’s salary and because of agents into whose pockets go a percentage of what each client makes.

Let throw in one more interesting tidbit. The vaunted 1% being bruited around last campaign and this. There are two ways to look at how to “make the list.” One is wealth and one is net worth.. A 2009 report (sorry, last one I could find) by the IRS shows that the top 1% of taxpayers earned close to $400,000. To make the list by net worth the low end threshold is $1.6 mil.

It would be unfair not to state the upside. There are at least 11 Foundations founded by players. NBA players have helped raise $270 million for NBA Cares. The Boys and Girls Clubs of America and UNICEF are recipients of tremendous sums from players. Countless players support countless charities locally and nationally with their time, their money, their memorabilia, and their drawing power.

So where are I going with this? I’m going to philanthropy, the use of money for good. True enough there are many, many good philanthropists in the league. But I’m talking about a philanthropy based on “giving until it hurts a little so others don’t hurt so much.” I’m talking about everyone saying that over the next 5 years I’m setting aside the Biblical precedent of 10% of my pre-tax dollars, or even post-tax dollars for heaven’s sake, for charity, preferably one charity.

When asked what he thought of Jordan’s announcement, Carmelo Anthony ($23 million) said it was “brilliant.” What he didn’t say is, “I’m going to sit down with MJ and see what we can do together.”(Note: Anthony in his own right is a leading NBA philanthropist). Nor did MJ indicate that one of the purposes of his gift was to stimulate gifts from others. “Give a man a fish and he eats dinner; give teach a man to fish and he eats for life.”

All good thinking, goodhearted  basketball players, and their teams, and their leagues could make a society changing impact on the inner cities of America and on the lives of youngsters trapped in them. They could pool their resources into one Foundation, hire Rockefeller,Carnegie  and Ford Foundation quality staff to map what the what’s and whens. Then like Nike they could say, “Just Do It!”They could leave a legacy so much greater than even the greatest legacy of statistics imaginable. As could players of most all professional sports.

They could–if they played as a team.




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