Sunday, July 15, 2012
Tell Me Your Job and I'll Tell You Your Politics
This week, NBA legend and Indiana Pacers General Manager Larry Bird came out against Ray Allen's decision to sign with the Miami Heat, saying:
“The one thing that bothers me the most is guys taking big pay cuts for a year to go down there and try to win a championship. There’s a lot of guys who like to ride the coattails of the best, and they’ll take a pay cut just to have an opportunity to win that ring.’’
First of all, I can't believe Allen is getting shit for taking less money to play for a proven champion after so many years of sports writers bloviating about spoiled players and a concerted effort from the NBA owners to drive down salaries. Some fuckers just can't win, I guess.
But the more interesting thing, to me, is that Larry Bird had no problem with Bill Walton narrowing his potential teams down to the Lakers and Celtics- and ultimately landing with the Celts- in the mid '80s. Hell, Bird was on the phone with Walton, encouraging him to ship up to Boston.
And this, of course, reminds me of Michael Jordan. During the 1999 lock out, Jordan famously told the owner of the Washington Wizards that if he couldn't make money on the Raptors, he should just sell the team, rather than try to cut players' salaries. But in last year's lockout, Jordan, as GM of the Charlotte Bobcats, drew one of the hardest lines against the players as the owners essentially made the same argument about profit.
So, what we've got here is two NBA legends who said one thing while playing, and another as executives. I can't wait for Magic to step in and be a twat to some Los Angeles Dodger!
Of course, I'm not sure Jordan and Bird are the absolute best examples of selling out; Jordan has famously cared about little besides winning and making money ("Republicans buy sneakers, too" and all that), and Bird wasn't really a progressive activist. But still, it's striking in that they've both done dramatic 180s on these issues.
The benefit of hiring former players as executives is, supposedly, that as former players, they have unique perspectives on the game. Hopefully, they have a greater understanding of how it works, but even at very least, they're coming from a different place, so they ought to avoid the groupthink of other NBA executives. For our purposes, we would hope that former players would understand that greater player freedom is good for basketball, and that the players are what the fans are coming to see- and thus, restricting player movement and suppressing player salaries are counter-productive and anti-capitalist, and that the owners' empty moralizing about players' salaries and loyalty is, well, empty moralizing.
But none of that works when the players, upon becoming executives, immediately adopt their old owners' positions, forget the things they learned during their careers, and directly contradict themselves. None of that works when they become the moralizers. When that happens, the same tired arguments get repeated and the same useless policies get perpetuated and it's 20 more years before we can have the kind of NBA we actually deserve.
Listen, we've all got bosses. We all have to smooth out some of our sharp edges for our jobs, we all have to pipe down on our most extreme views. And Bird and Jordan now both have the job of maximizing wins while minimizing costs, which is a different set of priorities than they had as players. But still, their analysis is flawed, their stated preferences will not actually improve the game, and when they were players, they knew that. Moreover, if anyone is in a position to buck their bosses and the expectations of their positions, it's Michael fucking Jordan and Goddamn Larry Bird. That they're not doing that- that they're perpetuating the same bullshit conflicts that have dominated the NBA since they themselves were wearing shorts- is pretty depressing.