It is hard for the average person to wrap their head around the amount of money the average professional athlete makes.
Notice how I said “average professional athlete.”
Sure, the superstars have always made the big bucks, particularly in Major League Baseball. That’s somewhat understandable, given the fact that the baseball season lasts from spring training at the end of February to the end of the World Series in late October, with 162 regular-season games. It’s a lot of work, so the price per at-bat doesn’t really amount to much.
But now, players in the NBA are starting to make MLB-type money, despite a season that has a little over half as many games in the same amount of time. And it isn’t just the superstars making that kind of paycheck.
Take Paul Millsap, for instance. A good player, to be sure. Jazz fans remember when he was supposed to be the Next Big Thing, and he has been an All-Star during his time playing for the Atlanta Hawks. But the Denver Nuggets just dropped $90 million over the next three seasons on a guy who’s about to begin his 12th season in the league and has never really been the No. 1 option. He’s not going to be the No. 1 option in Denver, either — that role will be filled by young center Nikola Jokic — yet he’ll be the Nuggets’ highest-paid player.
Defending champion Golden State is facing a luxury tax bill of more than $40 million after giving former NBA Most Valuable Player Stephen Curry a five-year, $201 million contract. If anyone deserves that kind of money, it’s Curry, who has lifted the Warriors from mediocrity to the NBA’s model franchise over the past few seasons. But it doesn’t help when teammate Kevin Durant is going to be making north of $30 million a year, and sixth man Andre Iguodala’s $16 million annual salary seems like a bargain.
Who ends up paying for all of this? The fans, of course. They’re the ones who are going to be priced out of the arena, thanks to overpriced tickets, concessions and parking. It’s hard to take paying hundreds of dollars to take your family out to a basketball game on an average income, particularly when the 10th or 11th guy on the bench — you know, the guy who never gets in the game — is making multiple millions of dollars just for putting on his warmups and waving a towel.
It will become even more difficult if players keep leaving for the bright lights (and, dare I say, nightlife) of the big city. If I were being offered that much money to do my job, particularly if my job was to play a children’s game, I’d go just about anywhere. $30 million goes a lot further in Salt Lake City than it does Boston or Miami.
Darren Vaughan is a veteran sports writer from Moab, Utah. His pocketbook believes that professional sports are best experienced from the couch, though his personal experience believes otherwise. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.