LeBron James: Where's the outrage about his salary?
At a time when 15 million Americans have no job at all, we should be indignant about pro athletes like LeBron James earning more than $15 million a year.
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“Why not?” Ruth famously replied. “I had a better year than he did.”
That much was true. The stock market crashed in October of 1929, triggering what would soon be known as the Great Depression. By 1933, one-quarter of able-bodied Americans were out of work. Unable to reverse the trend, President Hoover became the butt of jokes across the land: an empty pocket turned outwards was a “Hoover flag,” and a homeless encampment was a “Hoover village.”
Hoover earned $75,000 in 1930 – five thousand less than the Babe, who hit his 500th career home run the previous summer. But the reporter’s question implied that neither of them should be making that much money, when so much of the country was mired in poverty.
And that was the context missing from this summer’s hoopla surrounding basketball superstar LeBron James, which concluded last night with an hour-long TV special on ESPN. After months of speculation – would he stay in Cleveland? would he go to Chicago? – James announced that he will sign with the Miami Heat. He’ll join Heat guard Dwyane Wade – who decided to stay in Miami – and Toronto Raptors power forward Chris Bosh, the Heat’s other big-time free-agent acquisition.
After that, Internet chat rooms and radio call-in shows lit up with predictable darts and arrows. Especially in Ohio, critics derided James for forsaking his native Buckeye State. Others questioned whether James, Wade, and Bosh – who are all accustomed to carrying their teams – could share the ball with each other.
But almost nobody complained that James – like Wade and Bosh – will make sinful piles of money, at our worst economic moment since the Great Depression itself. On the contrary, they actually praised these guys for taking less than they could have earned playing elsewhere.
See, on the open market, each of them could get about $20 million dollars per year. But to comply with the Heat’s salary cap, they’re probably going to make about $15 million. That’s right: $15 million. We’re not talking about a vow of poverty here.