Dec 10, 2013; Indianapolis, IN, USA; Miami Heat forward LeBron James (6) talks to center Chris Bosh (1) and guard Dwayne Wade (3) during a game against the Indiana Pacers at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. Mandatory Credit: Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

The Bosh/Wade Opt-Out is a Lesson for NBA Owners

The summer it all went sideways, when the greatest players of the 2003 draft class created their own cartel shifting the balance of power, a pretty ferocious sucker punch straight in the gut, hit NBA owners. They were too stunned to cry out. Never before had their influence been questioned, highjacked or devalued. It was worse than any NBA Finals loss because it dented their exclusivity and privilege.

“The rich are different than you and me.”  Nearly a century ago, writer F. Scott Fitzgerald came to that conclusion and he was right. The rich are different than everyone else and not just because of their wealth. Much of what they do never sees the light.

NBA owners are proud members of the billionaire boys club, a segregated place, a closed world where blinds cover the glass- even the racism of Donald Sterling could not intrude upon it. But in the summer of 2010, the owners, a defiant and arrogant group, had been out maneuvered by their own athletes. That didn’t sit well, not at all. So the summer of the Big Three became the lockout of 2011.

Feb 1 2013; Indianapolis, IN, USA; Miami Heat guard Dwayne Wade (3) shoots a free throw against the Indiana Pacers at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. Indiana defeats Miami 102-89. Mandatory Credit: Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

To make sure the Big Three would die a quick death the owners proposals during the bargaining sessions of the lockout included restrictive rules they were not willing to compromise on. The owners had a hard line perspective and would not budge from their dated view of players. It went something like this: players want the most money and will go to the end of the earth to get it. The End.

However. This was not 1990 in which greed was a driving force for professional athletes. Back then athletes wanted to get as much as they could for as long as they could only because their professional lives were part of an ambiguous world. Careers came and went. Players had wives, children, medical costs, mortgages.

But the Jay Z prospectus- if life gives you lemons you don’t make lemonade you go out and buy every damned lemon grove in the Northern hemisphere- was not only attractive and intoxicating but a blueprint for the modern NBA player. Check yourself, they said. You don’t own us. You pay us. It was no longer make your own money. It was be your own money. Players began to see themselves as originator’s of their own business plan, one in which they had the ability to direct their careers as well as stay connected to one another.

Cornered, the owner’s knew they could not legislate friendship. But they could institutionalize a penalty system. Max contracts, yes. But only two per team. Three max contracts and the only players available would be the mediocre ones taking minimum salaries. Athletes, driven by greed, would go elsewhere to get paid. The owner’s couldn’t imagine a new world order of friendships and salaries whereas one was no greater than the other.

The owners had 3 or 4 years to be patient. Then, absent of compromise, it would come apart. Lebron James, Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh had opt outs in 2014. One would leave for more money. Right? Or more power.  It had to be true, the NBA universe had to return to normal.

But on Saturday Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh opted out for the sole reason of taking less money.

Jun 15, 2014; San Antonio, TX, USA; Miami Heat guard Dwyane Wade (3) hugs forward Chris Bosh (right) late in the fourth quarter against the San Antonio Spurs in game five of the 2014 NBA Finals at AT&T Center. The Spurs defeated the Heat 104-87 to win the NBA Finals. Mandatory Credit: Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports

It was not what the owners understood a NBA player would do. Certainly not two All-Star’s. Certainly not a Hall of Famer like Dwayne Wade. It’s one thing to do it in San Antonio, a small market, and with players who are not in their primes or who were not raised to embrace the capitalist ethic of America. But in Miami?

And there is one more thing the owners didn’t consider.

Michael Jordan ruined it for everyone who came after him. He won 6 championships and lost 0. That is how greatness is articulated these days, numbers no one can possibly reach. Today’s players are judged by an unrealistic measurement. How many titles do you have? How many NBA Finals have you been in? So there is a choice. Do you want to win? Or do you want the most money?

Thousands a miles removed from Miami, another NBA player was faced with the money vs. winning decision. Rudy Gay of the Sacramento Kings opted into his contract, not out. It will pay him 19 million dollars this coming season. He could have just as easily taken the Dwayne Wade route. Less to get more. He could have signed with a contender and be feted by ESPN as selfless. Same with Amare Stoudamire who opted into a contract that will pay him 20 million dollars. If he opted out, signed for less, the Knicks would have had flexibility. They could have brought Carmelo Anthony back and added another talent. But Amare took the money.

Greed has its benefits, in small doses it does, but in the NBA if you want to win greed inhibits players from reaching their potential as a team. It keeps other players away and it turns a champion into a spectator and then into a footnote. No one hates losing like a player who has had a parade in his city once upon a time and then is forgotten. Really, players do have pride. And in this era of the NBA, players still have power.

The James/Wade/Bosh collective was revolutionary when it started. They have two titles and at the same time have been humbled by losses making their introductory press conference-pep rally seem ridiculous all these years later. It is hard to win in the NBA, so much has to go right. The Big Three have had to think of the group first and themselves second. They have had to manage the money and think about the talent they are surrounded with.  And they have taught NBA owners a valuable thing. Don’t judge us by players you used to know. We are not them. We are you. We’re businessmen. We think about championships and costs.

Tags: 2014 Free Agency Chris Bosh Dwayne Wade Los Angeles Lakers

  • Lethaniel Davenport

    KOBE IS 5-2in the finals
    James 2-3
    Wade 3-2
    James has more to prove even though he might be the best player at this present time I’ll still take KOBE anyday

    • Neotribalist

      Tim Duncan is 4-1, which beats the winning percentage of Kobe’s 5 and 2, and Duncan has never even won back-to-back titles.

  • Daryl Peek

    This article does not put enough light on the fact that owners now have the media as a tool to put pressure on top players to take less money if they want to win. This was in part a goal of the CBA that was drafted. Our own Kobe Bryant has tried to make light of this as he says its not the players responsibility to manage the owners bottom line. The big three collusion makes and takes the individual brand out of the game. Kobe is seen as selfish by many for not refusing the recent offer and taking a lower salary in order to help the Lakers FO build a championship contender under the confines of the current CBA. Not all situations are equal and you cannot build a template the likes of SA or Miami for so called guaranteed championship contention. LBJ is the best player in the game and the Spurs have a long tenured core (HC included) that drives that system. These are variables that cannot be replicated elsewhere so easily as many argue on these blogs about building a winner.

    • Daryl Peek

      Example; what becomes of a Kwahi Leonard as far as building his personal brand going forward? If he chooses to get paid what he deserves for what he brings to the table he will be vilified as the one player who put himself above the Spurs way. How can young rising talents get on Kobe or LBJ’s global brand level if they are not allowed to shine as bright as they can individually?

    • thomas rickard

      Now that Lebron wants MAX contract, because he’s never been the highest payed player on his team, his sharing days are over, and rightly so.

      • Daryl Peek

        It will be interesting to see how this all plays out in Miami but given LBJ is not allowing other teams to court him right now one cannot assume he and the big three will not do it again (hometown discount) to help Riley reload.

    • thomas rickard

      Oh by the way, Kobe took a 7mil a year pay cut, something conveniently ignored

      • Daryl Peek

        There was no way Kobe’s new contract was gonna be as much or more than his last one which was under the old CBA so that pay cut is irrelevant. Keep in mind I’m not one who believes Kobe should have to give a discount but that does not change the sentiment of most as I said.

        • thomas rickard

          The new CBA didn’t change how much he could make a year, in fact they could have given him a raise, and part of the reason people feel like they do, is because of the media, who emphasized the amount without mentioning the pay cut, it will be interesting to see how a MAX deel for Lebron is handled.

          • Daryl Peek

            The new CBA absolutely changed everything as gone are the days of 30 million dollar a season contracts. LBJ is eligible for a 5 year deal upwards to 130 mil max. That is not over 30 mil a season. Kobe had to take a pay cut from his old CBA deal.

          • thomas rickard

            The reason Kobe got to 30mil was because he had a max contract every year with associated raises, it wasn’t done overnight, each players max contract is a function of their old contact, because Lebron has received less than max, it is now limiting how much he can make, Kobes contract amount, that was offered by management, guaranteed that he would make more than anyone else could receive, they could of offered more.

        • Dorian Holden

          You are flat out wrong. Kobe was grandfathered into the old CBA. He could have still gotten his raises from the 30 mil he made last year and got paid 32 plus next year. Now as a Laker fan I wish he took 15 a year but so be it.

  • thomas rickard

    The news from last 2 days, is putting a new spin on big 3, and your article, it appears now that LeLebron wants a MAX deel, that he wants to be the BIG DOG, it seems now that he has rings it’s “SHOW ME THE MONEY”, so much for this article

  • Neotribalist

    I thought Wade was in similar situation as amare so I am surprised amare didn’t also opt out of his contract. True, amare did increase his stock more last year if you go by the per 36 min numbers and the fact he actually played more than Wade did last year, though Wade had done more than amare leading up to last year. Thus, I felt they were in a similar situation contract wise with respect to how injuries have made them fall from superstar status and in respect to the salary caps of their teams.

    • J Taylor

      Why would Amare leave a guaranteed $20M on the table?

      • Neotribalist

        for reasons mentioned above and to give the knicks more flexiblity salary wise just like wade and bosh are doing.

  • J Taylor

    There is one flaw in this article…. It’s based on the premise that all 3 players opted out with the intention to take less money.
    If any of the 3 leave for max, or near max, the entire premise is faulty.