Final Word

By Jeff Girod

Posted October 26, 2011 in News

Slavery! That’s what HBO commentator Bryant Gumbel compared the NBA lockout to, calling NBA commissioner David Stern a “modern plantation overseer.” Lookie here:

“Stern’s version of what’s been going on behind closed doors has, of course, been disputed,” Gumbel said on, where else, Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel. “But his efforts were typical of a commissioner, who has always seemed eager to be viewed as some kind of modern plantation overseer treating NBA men as if they were his boys. It’s part of Stern’s MO. Like his past self-serving edicts on dress code or the questioning of officials, his moves are intended to do little more than show how he’s the one keeping the hired hands in their place.”

That’s probably the longest you’ve ever paid attention to Bryant Gumbel because his monthly TV show only appears in 28 million homes. It’s also probably why Gumbel is so desperate for ratings attention that he would compare a labor dispute between millionaires to 400 years of the capture, rape, torture, murder and forced labor of an entire ethnicity. Yeah, Clippers vs. Knicks is exactly like that.

Slavery and pro basketball; it’s an easy analogy to make. It’s also inaccurate, lazy and sensationalistic. Sure, the NBA is full of African-American players, but it also has white and European players, too, and last season’s NBA Finals MVP was a German-born blond dude named Dirk.

The NBA’s “slaves” are all twentysomething millionaires who earn 50 times more than its “plantation overseer” Stern. And when was the last time a “slave” was introduced every night to packed arenas with adoring fans, fog machines and a laser light show? And if NBA players were actual slaves, David Stern would have already emancipated the Toronto Raptors, because not even Canada wants them anymore.

There are 30 teams in the NBA, 12 active players on each squad. That means there are less than 400 NBA players total. Why not compare being an NBA pro to winning the lottery or being a rock star, because it makes more sense than an analogy to slavery.

According to Google, three of the top-ten most popular athletes in the world are Kobe Bryant, Lebron James and Michael Jordan. Jordan hasn’t played anything resembling pro basketball in 13 years. (Longer, if you toss out his catastrophic comeback in a Washington Wizards uniform.) Bryant, James and Jordan aren’t slaves. They’re gods on six continents.

The average NBA salary is $5.15 million. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the median household income in 2008 was $52,029. It would take the average American—who can’t even jump up and touch the net—close to a century of working every day just to earn the equivalent of one year’s salary of an NBA player. And that’s “household” income, so your spouse has to work the next 100 years, too. And I’m guessing neither of you gets a five-month off-season at your job or an “all-star break” or gets to wear a tank top and shorts to work or can call a timeout whenever you’re tired.

You also probably don’t commute everywhere by luxury jet or sleep in five-star hotels or never have to lift anything heavier than a 22-ounce genuine-leather NBA basketball. An authentic basketball of your own will cost about $85. Though you should probably save your pennies to attend a game.

Average ticket price to a Los Angeles Lakers’ game last year: $95.21, according to USA today. For a family of four, that’s $380.84 for less than three hours of entertainment. And that’s assuming you’re not parking a car, eating anything at the game or buying a souvenir or program.

Four hundred dollars—just to walk through the door at Staples Center, sit in a seat and not buy, eat or touch anything. Sounds like the only ones getting pushed down and held in place like slaves are the rest of us.

But Bryant Gumbel wouldn’t understand any of this, because he’s been collecting seven-figure paychecks since short shorts were cool. Meanwhile the NBA lockout continues, and the league has announced it’s considering canceling games through December.

I just hope those poor NBA players can survive on last year’s $5.15 million.

Contact Jeff Girod at


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