If you’re one of the people who believes NBA players earn too much money, consider this: When LeBron James fled to Miami this season he raised the value of the Heat by 17 percent to $425 million, while the value of the Cleveland Cavaliers fell 26 percent to $355 million (by comparison, league average is $369 million, according to Forbes).
As much as it’s fun to nag on LeBron, the simple fact is that he drives revenue. That’s why he had the power to air “The Decision,” and why so many of us watched. It’s also a big part of the reason Miami has sold out all of its season tickets after four straight years of attendance declines, and why local ratings for Heat games have doubled this season. And it’s the reason he deserves every dime of his paycheck.
Yet, James isn’t the top paid player in the league. He’s not even close. While Kobe Bryant is the top paid player in the league—understandably—at $24 million, guys like Vince Carter, Peja Stojakovic and Kenyon Martin (seriously, Kenyon Martin) are making more money than James, who is tied with teammate Chris Bosh for the league’s 22nd highest salary at $14.5 million. So criticize James all you want, but he made the choice to take less money even though he is clearly worth far more.
Yes, some players—such as those mentioned above—are too much, but James has made it clear that players drive income for the owners. Still, NBA commissioner David Stern and team owners are trying to cut $750 million from players’ salaries, lowering the portion of basketball-related revenue that goes to players from 57 percent to about 40 percent. With the collective bargaining agreement expiring in the offseason, and no new agreement in sight, it’s looking increasingly more like there could be a lockout next season.
Teams like the New York Knicks and Los Angeles Lakers have gargantuan valuations, at $655 and $643 million respectively. But while the NBA’s value increased 1 percent, 17 teams decreased in value. Those at the bottom of the league, like the Minnesota Timberwolves and Milwaukee Bucks—who make $264 and $258 million, respectively—are failing to rake in cash.
Of course, LeBron also helped perpetuate contraction rumors, which made him no more popular in certain circles, least of all in Cleveland, which will forever take joy in each of James’ slipups.
Perhaps Cavs fans have the right to dislike LeBron: as the numbers show, he left the team decimated. It looks like it’s going to be a long while before things improve for the Cavs on the court as well: they’ve lost 18 straight.