As the great Earvin ‘Magic’ Johnson once said: ‘You play this game to win, to have fun, and to make people happy.’
With all due respect, Mr. Johnson, allow me to add the No. 1 reason: to make millions and millions of dollars.
The amount of money that athletes get far exceeds many other professions. The average professional athlete makes more than the best lawyer. Average athletes know this and take love the fact.
You want proof? Look at the production of these players when they were playing for a contract, and compare it to when they had the contract: – Jerome James
James averaged 12.5 points and 6.8 rebounds in 11 NBA Playoff starts for the Seattle SuperSonics. The then-soon-to-be free-agent recorded double-figures in eight of his playoff appearances and averaged an impressive 17.2 points and 9.4 rebounds versus Sacramento in Seattle’s 4-1 first-round victory.
Former New York Knicks’ President of Basketball Operations Isiah Thomas was impressed by the sudden stellar play of James and signed him to a five-year, $30 million contract. Big mistake.
In his first year with the Knicks, James averaged a meager three points and two rebounds, averaging nine minutes in just 45 games. While you would think the second year couldn’t get much worse, it did. James averaged 1.9 points and 1.6 rebounds in 41 games. The third year with the Knicks was his last, as he saw playing time in just two games. ‘
Thanks for playing, Jerome. Enjoy the $30 million that the Knicks should not have given you.
– Barry Zito
Zito was given the largest contract ever for a pitcher when he signed a seven-year, $126 million contract with the San Francisco Giants.
At the time, most people thought of the contract as a bit excessive but still understood that Zito was one of the game’s best pitchers. Looking back at it today, it’s arguably one of the more regretful contracts ever given. In two seasons with the Giants, Zito has a 21-30 record with zero complete games, zero shutouts and ERAs of 4.53 and 5.15 respectively. ‘ In 2006, his final season with the Oakland Athletics before jetting across the bay, Zito played like he wanted a $126 million contract and went 16-10 with a 3.83 ERA. -Erick Dampier
Dampier has always been a dependable center, but never of All-Star caliber. He hit his peak production in 2003-04 with averages of 12.3 points, 12 rebounds and 1.85 blocks per game. Some critics claimed that he stepped up his production because he was in a contract year, and indeed he was considered a top free-agent commodity in the 2004 offseason.
Eventually he signed with the Mavericks and, in his first season in Dallas, played in 59 games (starting 56). He averaged 9.2 points, 8.5 rebounds and 1.85 blocks per game. In the 2005 Playoffs, he played against Houston and Phoenix centers Yao Ming and Amare Stoudemire and was criticized for his inconsistency and being foul-prone.’ This season he’s getting paid nearly $10 million and his salary will only increase in the next two years.
‘Of course players feel pressure to achieve when they’ve gotten so much money,’ New York-based sports psychologist Dr. Richard Lustberg says. ‘First, even though they live in a rarefied world, they have to know this is an insane sum of money. It’s impossible to live up to. And money is linked to production. We look at numbers, statistics’hellip;’
‘If someone calls and says, ‘I’m going to triple your salary,’ they expect you to improve’hellip; This is a business. They paid him the money to get a result and he knows that.’
And let’s face it. We all perform better when we know a promotion, bonus, or raise is on the line. I would use a thesaurus and edit this column five times over if I knew it was going to ESPN. ‘
Salaries of professional athletes are well known and easily accessible. There are tens and hundreds of athletes who have put up big numbers because they know what’s at stake in the coming offseason. James, Zito and Dampier are just a few examples.
Blaming the New York Knicks, San Francisco Giants and Dallas Mavericks management would be easy to do. After all, they made bad judgment calls and spent money on busts. But hindsight is 20/20. In a sport that is dominated by guards and forwards, and with few dominant big men, the Knicks and Mavericks saw James’ and Dampier’s potential and overpaid them. ‘
With Zito, the Giants saw an ace that would give them the best chance to win every fifth day. So they overpaid him. ‘
The truth is: average athletes like James, Zito and Dampier played great for a short period of time to get the contract they wanted, and they were successful in doing so. But then they lost the motivation and we saw exactly who they were.