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Thursday, October 4, 2007
Sam Smith on Wealth


The Chicago Tribune's Sam Smith writes about good guys Luol Deng and Ben Gordon. They both grew up poor. They both have their heads screwed on straight. And they both are, apparently, refusing to sign pretty massive contract extensions from the Bulls:

It's hardly a desperate issue. Under NBA rules, both players are committed to the Bulls for two more seasons. If they don't sign extensions by the end of October, they would become restricted free agents after the season. The Bulls have the right to match any offer, and in doing so with Chris Duhon and Andres Nocioni the last few years, they have sent word around the NBA that they will not lose players.

Still, the situation is a concern because it might be the first major test of the Bulls' philosophy. They invest in highly motivated, committed players, gym rats whose love for the game transcends the usual pettiness and ego that pervade the NBA, and it has worked wonderfully thus far.

If one or both players don't get extensions, will they pout? Become selfish scorers trying to get their averages up for a contract? Slack off on defense to save themselves for offense?

Then he asks the easy question: How could anyone turn down $10 million per year? It's the essential conundrum of sports. How can athletes, who play a game for a living and make more money than a pharoah, ever complain about anything? 

But I get it.

I have been to places like India and Ecuador, where just drinking water can give you cholera, or amoebic dysentery. When I was in India -- a while ago now, admittedly -- leprosy and tuberculosis were pressing daily concerns for plenty of people. The fresh food wasn't safe because the water wasn't safe. The processed food was hard to come by, and in many cases was found to have suspiciously high levels of toxins. (The kids in one house where I stayed were warned against chocolate because of the metal toxicity.) And you can't count on the healthcare. Not to mention there are children living in the street, desperate for food.

The point is, compared to that, we're all millionaires. If you have food, housing, decent health, and maybe even a car? It took us an hour to convince people in Ecuador that you could safely drink the water we shower in. Compared to much of the world, all of us reading and writing on this here internet are in the fat part of fat city. 

That doesn't mean you won't be pissed if the guy at the next desk gets a big raise and you don't.

Maybe we should just all be satisfied. If you're reading this, you are lucky compared to lots of people!

But I think we also need to understand that athletes are concerned about their value relative to other people who do what they do -- like just about all of us.

Sam Smith points out that this same thing even happens with sportswriters:

We sportswriters have these fantasy jobs. We sit up close at the biggest events and then talk to the players about what we've seen. People pay thousands of dollars in charity auctions to do this once. We do it all the time. And then someone who we are sure isn't as good gets a raise or a better job, and we are furious and want to quit.

I've never been to a gathering of media people at which almost everyone wasn't complaining about their jobs or their colleagues.

Too true.