(Photo via NBA.com)
On November 25, 2013, Kobe Bryant signed a 2 year, 48.5 million dollar contract extension to finish out his career with the Los Angeles Lakers and ensure a rarity in sports today, that a star players suits up his entire career with the same team. There wasn’t a contentious negotiation, pouting, Kobe’s side didn’t resort to common contract negotiation tactics such as holding out or threatening to leave. Kobe Bryant didn’t yell at the owner during a preseason game to mother f’ing pay me.
Simply, the Lakers’ brass wanted to honor Kobe for what he had done and what they believe he can still do going forward, and Kobe Bryant accepted. That’s it.
Deserving. Loyalty. Well-earned. All words that are fitting of the moment, yet those weren’t the words many chose when providing thoughts of the moment. What should have been a glorious day for the Lakers franchise, Lakers fans and the Bryant family, something quite different followed the news of his extension.
Wish Kobe had taken far less money next 2 years to max his chances of winning 6th ring. Now can't see a title either year.
— Skip Bayless (@RealSkipBayless) November 26, 2013
— Sports Illustrated (@SInow) November 26, 2013
— Grantland (@Grantland33) November 25, 2013
LeBron took less money to win titles. LeBron > Kobe player, person and teammate.
— Jason Whitlock (@WhitlockJason) November 25, 2013
Kobe had long been known for his desire to win at all cost, but following the news of his extension, that was being questioned by many.
”The narrative on Kobe in the last few seasons always starts with his thirst for more rings. The obsessive drive for six, or seven, or eight. Given a unique opportunity to facilitate that process at the expense of income, Kobe took the money.” wrote long time Los Angeles sports writer Brian Kamenetzky.
Respectable, reputable and famed Los Angeles Times Sports Writer, Bill Plaschke, had a similar take about what the contract extension says about what actually motivates Kobe.
“Kobe Bryant has also said he is about championships, yet he signed this extravagant deal instead of following the lead of wealthy veteran athletes like Tom Brady and Tim Duncan who agreed to take less money for the sake of improving the team.”
Kobe Bryant had become the poster boy for greed and he was no longer about winning because he chose to take what was offered by a team willingly wanting to reward him. Conversely, Tim Duncan who in a similar situation at age 36, took significantly less; a 3 year, 36 million dollar extension which was half of what he was eligible to make and roughly half of what Kobe will be paid on a yearly basis.
The media painted Tim Duncan as the heroic figure for taking less, and Kobe Bryant as the villain for taking his contract.
This is the point where the “Take Less to Win” campaign seemed to pick up steam. As the 2013-14 season went on, the narrative when discussing the upcoming free agent season, took on that “Take Less to Win” theme. Phil Jackson, the new head of the New York Knicks front office, looking to take advantage of the idea that obviously benefits him in trying to field a competitive team, used the “Take Less to Win” movement in his plea to Carmelo Anthony to re-sign with the Knicks.
“I think there is a precedent that’s been set,” Jackson said of stars taking less money to join or remain with contending teams. “Because the way things have been structured now financially for teams is that it’s really hard to have one or two top stars or max players, and to put together a team with enough talent, you’ve got to have people making sacrifices financially.” Jackson stated to ESPN New York.
“So we hope that Carmelo is true to his word and we understand what it’s going to take, and we will present that to him at that time.”
It would seem counter-intuitive for a team’s push to retain a player is to make public comments that the player should look to take LESS money to stay, but he was able to take that approach because of the accepted general belief that in today’s NBA with its stringent, unforgiving salary cap the only way to compete for a championship was for stars to take less.
Then the San Antonio Spurs won the 2014 NBA championship. The team with their 3 stars making a combined 32.8 million, which was just slightly more than the 30.4 million that Kobe Bryant made last season; a season where he suited for just 6 games.
If the “Take Less to Win” movement was a science-fiction based space craft, the Spurs winning the championship is when it was thrown into warp speed.
Before the start of the free agent period in July, the big three of Lebron James, Chris Bosh and Dwayne Wade had opted out and it was speculated that they were doing so take substantial pay cuts in order to bring in another big name free agent, forming a big four. The theme seemed to be moving right along smoothly, then, it didn’t.
Sources: Kyrie Irving accepts Cavaliers' max contract offer of 5 years, $90 million
— Chris Broussard (@Chris_Broussard) July 1, 2014
— Sports Illustrated (@SInow) June 30, 2014
Lakers Offer $97M Max Contract To Carmelo Anthony — http://t.co/LKopvlAdzp
— RealGM (@RealGM) July 4, 2014
Something that Phil Jackson has rarely ever had to do in his career, he ate crow, then did what he stated couldn’t be done if they were to compete for a championship, offered Carmelo a max contract.
Knicks Reportedly Offer Carmelo Anthony Max Five-Year $129 Million Deal http://t.co/SxvsnL8M4B
— SLAM Magazine (@SLAMonline) July 4, 2014
Kyrie Irving signing a max extension, Lebron demanding a max contract, the Lakers offering a max contract to Carmelo which was countered by the Knicks offering him an even bigger and longer contract by way of owning his bird rights.
Using the spacecraft metaphor from earlier, this is where the massively large space brakes are slammed on the “Take Less to Win” movement.
In a very late appearance to the movement, the NBPA (National Basketball Players Association) has finally stepped in to voice their very obvious concerns. In a Sporting News article, Sean Deveney, provides some quotes from an unnamed union official on the movement.
“We have a collective-bargaining agreement that already limits what star players can make, and limits the total amount teams can pay. We have a very tough luxury tax. And now you have teams publicly shaming their best players into a bigger cut?”
The public shaming is what Kobe Bryant has endured and what seemed to be in store for any other star player that dared follow suit. Except, the stars rejected the idea, and took what was rightfully theirs and fought for during the 2011 collective bargaining agreement (CBA.) A fight that was terribly one-sided in favor of the NBA owners.
In that 2011 CBA, the owners got over on the players because of the following:
- A cap team salaries
- A cap individual salaries
- A cap rookie salaries and pay scale for the following years
- Stricter use of previous exceptions
- Higher penalties for teams that exceed the luxury tax limit
The NBA player’s salaries are already artificially suppressed as a result of the restrictions and limits of the CBA, but that wasn’t enough. The perpetuation of propaganda by NBA team executives and media attempted to further restrict the salaries of players by way of the following:
- Shaming a star player publicly for taking a large salary
- Star player being tagged as selfish for taking a large salary
- Star player being tagged as not caring about winning for taking a large salary
- Creating negative stigma around the player
The absurdity of the entire “Take Less to Win” propaganda campaign is that it unfairly cast players as selfish who were playing within the rules of the CBA, an agreement that they fought but was shoved down the throats by the NBA owners for the purpose of creating competitive balance and greater assurance of profitability for franchises.
The idea of stars taking less in order to stockpile talent under the salary cap does the exact opposite of creating competitive balance and further lines the pockets of owners of those teams by reducing their cost for labor and increasing the value of the player they sign and their franchise.
In this topsy-turvy world that the “Take Less to Win” created, it somehow put the responsibility of building a championship contending team on the players when it is the owners and their handpicked staff that are actually the ones that acquire the talent, negotiate contracts of those players and pay for their services. Even if a player agrees to take less, there is no guarantee that the money he is sacrificing will be well spent and result in a championship, because again, it is the responsibly of that team to build around him.
The NBA owners and the media who have been pushing this “Take Less to Win” campaign are wrong in every way imaginable; it is complete disservice to the players and places players in the unfair position of either taking what is rightfully theirs or carrying a negative stigma that stains their image, marketability and for some like Kobe Bryant, their legacy.
It is one thing to commend players like Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and most recently, Dirk Nowitzki, who have decided to take less, but it’s quite another thing to expect them to do so and shame them if they don’t. It seems that the players and their union have finally caught on and are moving to reject the movement. If the owners want more money and flexibility to field a competitive team, then they are more than welcome to do so during their next negotiation of the CBA; the players would be more than accommodating to do so. Until then, NBA owners and those in media pushing their propaganda should keep their hands out of the players pockets and keep their mouths shut while doing it.
– Fern Rea
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