Feeding Greed: NBA Fans Must Take Responsibility

Want to see salaries go back down? Stop paying into the system.
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There has been a lot of talk about greed during the

NBA's

labor dispute. Fans across the country really struggled to take a side during the lockout because neither the players nor the owners acted worthy of our sympathy. They stopped a season and curtailed our entertainment in what basically amounts to an argument over how to divide a couple billion dollars. No wonder we couldn't relate.

It was even a little bit enjoyable to see how easily sports fans got along without NBA basketball. We had college games. There was hockey. The

NFL

seems to be at a new apex of popularity. Pro basketball? We really didn't miss it.

Well, the lockout is over, and in about a month, NBA basketball is going to infiltrate just about everything you see on television and in the newspapers. To get in a 52-game season, most teams will be playing four games a week, as opposed to the two or three they were playing in previous years. It's going to be everywhere.

But if you still believe that the players are a bunch of money-hungry jerks or that the owners are an equally contemptible crowd, there is only one thing you can do. Don't have anything to do with the NBA.

Don't buy a ticket or even accept one that was given to you. Don't watch the games on television. And especially don't patronize the advertisers that sponsor the telecasts of the games.

In a warped way, believe it or not, we fans are the ones who created the current situation. We are the only ones who might be able to send it back the way it came.

Why does a player like

Patrick Ewing

get a $16 million salary? It's because the

Knicks

really want him on their team. People will buy tickets and turn on TV sets just to see Ewing. And if they won't for that, they will to see a successful Knicks team -- and Ewing is a crucial component of that. The ownership of the Knicks risks that salary because it will return more in television contracts, ticket and concession sales and merchandising revenue. It's simple economics. We're willing to spend money on a Knicks team because it has Patrick Ewing.

You want to see the salaries go back down? Stop paying into the system. As soon as the Knicks ownership discovers fans won't spend that money on all those things, they won't be willing to risk so much to keep Ewing on the team. That's business.

The caps and restraints of trade that owners and players agreed on to end the lockout are, I believe, the wrong answer. The owners found a way to keep a good thing going and contain costs, but there is something almost un-American about it.

Allow an example.

Will Smith

is one of the biggest box-office draws in Hollywood. He gets something like $12 million to perform in a film. But you never hear anyone complaining about how much Smith makes to be in a movie. I would argue that Ewing does a whole lot more for his $16 million than Smith does for his $12 million. But I can't understand why that is. Do people think Smith is a noble artist and Ewing simply a pampered jock?

Smith and Ewing both are in the entertainment industry, whether they'd want to admit it or not. Over the course of 82 games, Ewing would entertain far more people for far longer than Smith would in a feature film. Yet Ewing's the guy everyone comes down on, not Smith. People complain about the prices of movie tickets the same way they do about the cost of NBA tickets, but no one has stopped buying either of them.

This is America. No one wants to be told that there is a limit to the amount of financial success he or she may enjoy. What would we all think if the movie studios all got together and decided that no actor or actress could make more than $8 million for a movie? It would take an edge off the competitiveness in the industry. It wouldn't be capitalism.

The NBA is a little bit funny because the teams are, in fact, competitors, but also partners. So this is what we end up with. They've put a ceiling on how much the athletes can make. It stinks.

The players are treated like commodities: They should be able to get whatever the market will bear, just like real commodities.

We are always being bombarded by facts about how much some baseball pitcher makes per start or how many dollars an NBA player makes per minute he played. I want to know how much Will Smith made for every line he spoke in

Men in Black

.

I know what you are thinking. You are asking what is so bad about a ceiling of $9 million or $14 million. You think that if you made that in one year, you would be set for life. Why argue that they should be allowed to make even more for playing a game?

And maybe you are right.

Maybe they are getting too much money. Maybe the huge sums of cash are stealing away the players' incentive. Maybe the wads of cash are drawing less-skilled players from the college and high school ranks into the pros. You may be right about all these things.

If you think that you are, don't complain about it. You have only one recourse. Send the message by not participating as a fan. Don't go to a game. Don't watch it on television. It's the only way to get your message across. If enough people do it, things will change.

Roger Rubin has covered sports in the New York area for the past 10 years. He currently is a staff writer for the New York Daily News, covering high school and college sports. He appreciates your feedback at

gotascoop@aol.com.