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VOL. 129 | NO. 134 | Friday, July 11, 2014
Don Wade

Don Wade

LeBron’s Contract: Best Bargain in Sports

By Don Wade

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The money can drive you crazy, if you let it. Each day in Memphis we’re reading about “blue flu” and the city’s ongoing financial crisis.

With that as our local backdrop, it’s easy to become disgusted with the LeBron James sweepstakes that sort of looks like a steel cage (no, make that bank vault) death match between glitzy Miami/slick Pat Riley and hardscrabble Cleveland/thin-skinned Dan Gilbert.

But as is often the case with big-time pro sports, our context needs some readjustment. The idea that the pro sports world, or the entertainment world, has anything to do with the real life where most Americans work and play, well, that thought perished long ago.

In other words, our city’s financial woes exist within a separate universe that really has nothing to do with LeBron’s position as the best basketball player alive. Once we remember that, we can then channel our disgust in more appropriate ways.

You’re welcome to be mad as hell over whatever deal LeBron or Carmelo Anthony gets – it’s a free country, after all – but the NBA has a hard cap on individual contracts. James wants a max deal, but that’s only $22 million per season.

I know, the “only” in that sentence is creepy at some level.

But for a moment, put yourself in LeBron’s size 16 sneakers. The most he can make next season is $22 million. And yet our old friend Rudy Gay, who wisely exercised his player option with Sacramento on the ridiculous contract former Grizzlies owner Michael Heisley signed off on, will make $19,371,326.

That’s not a misprint. It’s $19.3 million for a player who always has been silky-smooth style over never-enough substance.

Put another way: Rudy Gay will make 87.7 percent of what LeBron James’ max annual salary can be.

Are we to believe LeBron James is only 12.3 percent better than Rudy Gay?

That’s preposterous.

Or consider this: Mike Conley ($8,760,000 this coming season) plus Courtney Lee ($5,450,000), plus Tony Allen ($5,000,000) equals $19,210,000 – or still $161,326 less than Rudy Gay’s contract, according to HoopsHype.com.

That’s laughable. And criminal. And insane.

At Michael Jordan’s peak, it probably wasn’t possible for him to make as much as he was worth to the Chicago Bulls and the NBA. The same is now true of LeBron, which is why Gilbert has contracted with the devil for the remaining shards of his soul in an effort to bring LeBron home.

Meanwhile, somebody will overpay for Anthony and the Houston Rockets seem ready to wed Chris Bosh with a Rudy Gay-like overpayment of four years for $88 million.

So, yes, there’s plenty of money madness in the league. The Dallas Mavericks reportedly have made a $45 million three-year offer to Chandler Parsons. Parsons (16.6 points, 5.5 rebounds, 4.4 assists, albeit with a semi-sweet 3-point shot for Houston last season at 36.1 percent), lives in the same statistical neighborhood as Rudy: 18.4 points, 6.0 rebounds and 2.9 assists last season with that unreliable 3-point shot (33 percent) he just loves to take.

It’s understandable if you’re weary of the sports news cycle, as driven by The Mothership, being All LeBron All the Time. I’m tired of it, too. Although I have appreciated the breaks from DIVA World Cup.

Anyway, I don’t begrudge LBJ getting a max contract or having the choice to go back to his native Ohio, return to Miami, or shock everyone by going someplace else.

In the context of his talent, his marketing power, and relative to his peers, he is about to sign a contract that on a per-annual basis will make him the most underpaid athlete in the world.

Sure, it’s a hassle to clear cap space to make room for him. It’s a headache trying to assemble a supporting cast of which he will approve.

But $22 million per season for The King?

It is but a pittance.

Don Wade’s column appears weekly in The Daily News and The Memphis News. Listen to Wade on “Middays with Greg & Eli” every Tuesday at noon on Sports 56 AM and 87.7 FM.

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