In the fall of 2004, Minnesota Timberwolves guard Latrell Sprewell famously claimed, "I'm at risk. I have a lot of risk here. I've got a family to feed."
It was preseason, entering his second year with the Wolves after an exciting Conference Finals run that came up just short to the Lakers, and the 34-year old player he was ranting over an "insulting" $27-30 million, 3-year extension offer.
Of course, he declined the offer and went on to have a poor season. "Why would I want to help them win a title? They're not doing anything for me." Later, when the offer dropped to $21 million over 3 years, he became a free agent. And when no NBA team offered anything better, he just up and retired. Poof. He was gone. Never to play another NBA game. Too proud to accept less money than he felt he deserved.
At the time, Sprewell was ridiculed for his decision by players and media alike. Crazy to completely retire over what he deemed an insulting contract offer.
Yet now the entire NBA - owners and players alike - have become what they once couldn't fathom. Crazy. Stupid. Absurd. Each side has come to the conclusion that if they can't make more than 2 BILLION DOLLARS a year, with guaranteed annual growth built in, then it's not even worth playing any more.
Ian Thomsen of si.com wrote a truly insightful piece the other day, lambasting the owners and players alike for their role in this debacle. Please click that link and read the whole story. Makes you go "whoa".
For the NBA owners and players to shut down their league during the worst economic times in more than 60 years has got to be the dumbest thing they could imagine doing. At a time when so many businesses are fighting for every last dollar, the NBA players and owners are giving back money to their season-ticket holders -- their die-hard fans -- and saying we don't want it. Put that money back in your pockets for now, and when we decide to start playing again, think about whether we are worthy of your investment.
Sprewell went to browner and darker pastures. He eventually sold his boat at auction to help pay debts, while his house was foreclosed upon (and this was BEFORE the housing bubble burst!). He made more than $96 million in his 13 year career, yet was bankrupt within 5 years of self-imposed, bravado-laced retirement.
Do you think at some point he wished he'd taken the original $27-30 million guaranteed-money extension that would have paid him through his 37th birthday?
So too will 450 NBA players look back on this 2011-2012 season with regret, wishing they'd been able to see through their bravado and take the deal that still made them the highest paid sports league in history, replete with guaranteed contracts, annual raises and a soft salary cap.
The owners will regret this move as well, having voluntarily given away their foothold on fans' discretionary spending in the middle of the worst recession in 60 years. Once that money is re-allocated amongst those households to greater needs, or even different but equally rewarding entertainment, will it ever come back to the NBA?
How many families, who once had earmarked their NBA season tickets (or NBA League pass subscription) as a "sunk cost", will find that they can no longer afford it when the NBA returns next year or the year after?
This is a bad, bad decision for the owners and players.
Just ask Latrell Sprewell how it worked out for him.