Monday, 16 June 2014

Money can't buy everything

If you nodded your head saying money can't buy love, that wasn't what I meant ! After all this is a business blog and starry eyed affairs of the heart seldom feature here !!. Money can't even buy the thing money is supposed to be good at buying - a major sports championship.

The trigger for this post is the NBA finals that concluded yesterday. The San Antonio Spurs defeated the Miami Heat to win the "World Championship" of basketball . For the sports purist, it was a wonderful result. The Spurs played sublime basketball. They came back after a heartbreaking loss last year to win it this time around. This is their fifth championship.  But this post isn't about the sport - its about the money.

In sports, superstars make insane amounts of money as salaries. If ever there is a breed even more mercenary than bankers, it is sports stars. Salary levels are simply insane. Kobe Bryant the highest paid NBA star, earned a salary of $ 1 per second ! There are 31 m seconds in a year and that's what he earned - $ 31m in a year. Or if you prefer $ 85,000 every day. And he was injured for most of the season and hardly played - he made all that money sitting on his butt (Sriram please note !). At least Kobe Bryant is one of the world's top players. What about Amar'e Stoudamire making $ 22m. He can't even make it into his own team.

NBA salaries are guaranteed by contract - it doesn't matter if the player plays well or awfully. It doesn't even matter if he is dropped. He just banks the money. The most outrageous case happened five seasons ago and I blogged about it here. In every other field of human endeavour, pay has some link to performance. Not in most sports and certainly not in the NBA.   Player salaries inflate to obscene levels and for the contract duration it absolutely does not matter what the player does.

In this mad world of the NBA, the San Antonio Spurs stand out. Their top players take pay cuts so that the team can afford to hire good players. Their top players - Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili, have stayed together in the same team from the beginning. They could have doubled their salaries going elsewhere. They didn't and instead took pay cuts. Their coach Greg Popovich has been coaching them for 17 years. They play together as a team. They are unselfish - there are no giant sized egos. Their young rising star, Kawhi Leonard, won the Most Valuable Player award of the Finals. His salary ?  $ 1.9 m.

Now you can understand, why I am incredibly happy that the Spurs won. This is sports at its best. In a world of giant sized egos, obscene salaries, switching teams at the drop of a hat, the San Antonio Spurs represent modesty, team work and the spirit of sport. There is simply no other major team in any sport, even remotely like them.  Think of Tim Duncan. One of the greatest players the game has ever seen. He's into his 17th year - his contemporaries have long retired. He is still a great player. He takes pay cuts year after year to help the team . He is self effacing to a fault. And he just wins. He played brilliantly in the Finals. It is his fifth NBA championship. This is what sports, and a sportsman, ought to be like.

And here's another reason to love them . In the backwaters of Texas, where you would least expect it, is the most international of NBA teams. Their team consists of two Frenchmen, one Brazilian, one Argentinian, one Italian, one Australian and one Virgin Islander. Of the players who took the court in the last game only 3 were American.

All hail the San Antonio Spurs.

PS. One more reason to adore Tim Duncan. He doesn't tweet. Oh Lord; what a blessed relief :)


Anonymous said...

Exkalibur666: It is a bit like the Athletico Madrid story. A club with not as much resources as other big clubs in la liga winning the title thru team work & dedication. But this whole thing is linked to the fact that professionals in entertainment industry earn a lot more than say a scientist while their contribution to society is not comparable.

Ramesh said...

@Exkalibur - Yes some similarities with Athletico, although they have achieved nowhere near what the Spurs have done. You are absolutely right - entertainers earn completely insane amounts of money. I usually don't have a problem with anybody earning anything, but what rankles me is that in the NBA, they can earn guaranteed incomes of insane proportions whether they play or not.

Sanjay Balachandran said...

Ramesh An excellent post. Perhaps it is time that our great cricket team takes a leaf out of the San Antonio Spurs. Easier said than done. One more parallel I want to draw is when I see absolutely useless folks (not that I am useful) with no skills apart from handling the boss and politics( some may argue it is a skill) rise high and above and earn obscene salaries.
Have u ever seen a boss take a pay cut so that employees can retain their job or earn their much required bonuses. If there is someone like that maybe a topic of us next post

Sandhya Sriram said...

its fashionable to tatoo Kobe on yourself and cry "Kobe Kobe" and so Kobe is like a movie star, he is paid for his stardom, not his game. The stardom is difficult to earn but sticks on atleast a few seasons. so, once you have worked hard to earn the stardom, you have enough money in the pocket to enjoy it as long as it lasts and not work further.

But the other aspect is that probably Tim Duncan will retire peacefully with his past glories to keep him energised for the rest of his life, but i cannot comment on Kobe, massive egos and a lot of money is a deadly combination.

The Million Miler said...

Reminds me of the Blackcaps. NZ Cricket contracts offer bugger all money, the best of the players makes about 150grand NZD a year which to post tax and superannuation is about 100k! When Stephen Fleming got a contract to peddle Rexona and Fujitsu (50K per year for each) it was a big deal. Enter IPL and a few of the players managed to settle their 25 year mortgage in one season! Remember Chris Martin (the bowler who couldn't even hold a bat?) He is now retired happily from cricket and owns a mini supermarket franchise ( Remember Ewen Chatfield? He has a taxi service (3 cars one of which he drives) in Welly. YET above all else the Blackcaps played the gentlemen's game in absolutely gentlemanly fashion. As a team of players with limited means they have always punched above their weight. In a sport mad country like Enzed, it is not always about money!. A pretty long rant, apologies!!

Ramesh said...

@Sanjay - Yes, there are bosses like that too. An earlier post of mine

@Sandhya - Wow, you know who Kobe is ?? Much impressed :):)

@Kiwi - If you say so, I'll accept that the Blackcaps are good guys. Although I suspect $150 grand goes a long way in your part of the world - after all it will buy a lot of sheep !!! Just kidding.

Would love to take a ride in Chatfield's cab - think of all the things we can talk. Might have to go right around New Zealand to do justice :)

Sriram Khé said...

Boy, it was one confluence of major sporting activities, eh ... the NBA finals, the Stanley Cup finals, Golf's US Open, futbol, ... all happening at the same time. Did you manage to move your butt at least a tad from the couch, Ramesh? ;)

I agree with the spirit of your post, and am always a fan of sportsmanship in any walk of life (a couple of years ago, I authored an op-ed on sportsmanship, with the "fouls to give" in basketball as my point of departure.

From a business perspective, there is a reason why Kobe gets paid a gazillion even when did not play--his name sells merchandise for supergazillions. Merchandise with his name or the Lakers name. Not merely in the US but in countries far, far away too. In his career, "Bryant has logged more N.B.A. minutes, including the post-season, than all active players, and ranks fifth in the all-time clock punchers’ leaderboard." To merely reduce his $$$ to per second or per day is a tad misleading, no?

I don't have a dog in the race, as they say. Does not matter to me whether the Spurs won or not. All I know is that the intense professionalization of any sports means that sportsmanship died a long time ago. Further, as I noted in my op-ed, "this notion of “fouls to give” is becoming common in society."

Ramesh said...

@Sriram - Yeah - had to move my butt, just a little, to get some food and drink :)

Sportsmanship died a long time ago and I am not bleating about that event. The Spurs are not any more or any less sporting than any other NBA team. But what they have done is sensible pay, sticking together as a team, suppressing dysfunctional egos and winning. That is a better route to success than insane money thrown at supposed "stars" - bankers please note.

By the way, you know "Hack a Shaq" ?? I have to drastically revise my opinion of you :):)

Shachi said...

Love love love the Spurs! They have earned my respect year over year.

I see a LOT of it in the little leagues around me...where all the young children play. It is amazing to watch - the coaches, mostly, focus on building team spirit vs nurturing talent in a few gifted athletes. It all seems to start fine, and then go downhill when you enter into the major leagues.

Ramesh said...

@Shachi - How can a good Californian be a Spurs fan ?? :)

That's the beauty of sport, isn't it - it teaches you so much of life. The problem comes when money gets into the equation. As long as sports is a hobby or played at amateur level, its one of the finest things on earth.

Sriram Khé said...

was reminded of your post when I read this:
"The Lakers are coming off their worst season since moving to Los Angeles, winning only 27 games while All-Star guard Kobe Bryant sat out all but six with multiple injuries.

Despite a miserable campaign, the Lakers were the most profitable franchise in the NBA -- by a large margin."

Ramesh said...

@Sriram - See what happens next year ......

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