The result of winning over money, friendship over fame
One has to wonder if the enormous salaries the NBA offers have caused players to forget the reasons why they play the game. Or that it is a game. The concept of playing because it was a childhood dream, or the dream of hitting the game-winning shot as time expires to take home the NBA title seems largely gone. The game has changed. It has changed from being played on the court to being played in the owner’s office. Players seem to care only about one thing: money.
What Pat Riley is doing in South Florida is unprecedented. Sure, there have been isolated cases where the magnanimous nature of an individual athlete enables him to sacrifice dollars for the benefit of his team. But never has such an attitude fostered a culture that has permeated throughout an entire organization.
What has resulted should be a model for everyone to follow – on generosity, on the desire for team success, and – most importantly – on the value of friendship.
Free agency obviously depends on a number of factors. One, clearly, is money. For some, priorities two, three, four and five are also money. That will not be the case for any of the next fifteen players to wear a Miami Heat jersey.
Dwyane Wade, Lebron James and Chris Bosh each executed a contract to join the Miami Heat on July 9, to the bitter disappointment of the vast majority of the country. Lost within the media’s sinister portrayal of the event was the sacrifice that each made for the betterment of his team. Two of history’s most deserving maximum contract players – James and Wade – volunteered to take far less, along with the only other player deemed worthy of a maximum contract, Bosh. The Big Three sacrificed a combined $49 million over six seasons. That’s a tidy 13% discount.
Detractors would have you believe their intentions were not as noble as depicted, suggesting that the lack of Florida state taxes should be considered. That is simply not true. The Heat had the cap space to offer all three full maximum contracts, and was prepared to offer them just that. They, and only they, chose to take less.
The giving did not stop there. Udonis Haslem drew serious interest from at least three other teams who put tempting offers on the table. The Denver Nuggets and Dallas Mavericks each reportedly offered him a five-year, $33.4 million mid-level exception contract over the weekend, and the New Jersey Nets offered three years and $20 million last week. Haslem instead chose Miami for $20 million, a hefty 40% discount.
It was not new territory for Udonis. Only days into the July 2005 negotiation period with the Heat, Haslem agreed to the now expired five-year, $30.3 million mid-level contract. After completing the negotiations, Jason Levien, Haslem’s agent at the time, estimated that he left around $10 million on the table in order to meet Haslem’s hometown wishes.
That’s a combined $23.4 million surrendered over what will very likely be his final two contracts.
Mike Miller has quietly made the biggest sacrifice of all.
Miller stood to benefit from a huge payday in free agency. But, instead, his singular focus was on winning a championship. Even before the frustrations of 2009/10 began to show in his on-court emotions as the season wore on, it was easy to sense that he desperately wanted to play for a winner. In 20 career playoff games (two with Orlando and three with Memphis), Miller’s teams have just two wins, obviously never making it past the first round. Now he has his chance.
His sacrifices were substantial. Miller has apparently agreed to a five-year $30 million contract, equal to the only other contract that was officially presented to him – a one-day expiring deal offered by the Los Angeles Lakers on July 1. However, the Los Angeles Clippers and New York Knicks each showed a strong interest, and each had big cap space after their own failed attempts at Lebron James. A potential offer from the Knicks was estimated at five years and $50 million. That’s another largely disregarded 40% discount.
When added together, the numbers are staggering:
Mike Miller: $20,000,000 (Estimated)
Dwyane Wade: $17,944,478
Lebron James: $15,409,478
Chris Bosh: $15,409,478
Udonis Haslem: $13,437,000
Total Discount: $82,200,434
That’s more than what 27 of the league’s 30 teams project to spend next season. That’s probably more than I will in the next five years combined.
Why did they do it?
The irony is that this core of players has fallen from grace by popular society by choosing winning over money, the joy of friendship over fame.
In an era when we all complain that athletes only care about the coin, the top five players on the Heat’s championship-caliber roster, including two of the top three players in the league, agreed to take less money to play with his friends and to dominate the NBA for the foreseeable future, even at the risk of diminishing their own individual greatnesses.
How did it come to be?
It appears that Chris Bosh may have been the unforeseen catalyst.
Sure, Riley was the mastermind. Wade, who had the county temporarily renamed in his honor, was the recruiter. And Lebron, whose “decision” turned into a national televised drama which will live in infamy, was the headliner. But the first domino that fell into place was Bosh.
It probably went down something like this: Bosh told Wade he wanted to play in Miami, which immediately convinced the hometown hero to spurn Chicago’s pitch and stay with the Heat. A day or so later, Wade got a call from James, telling him it would be a South Beach three-peat.
In his seven-year career, Bosh has undoubtedly never have a more significant assist. “When Chris told me that,” Wade said, “it all just came together. And then it was up to Lebron.”
James eventually completed the trifecta, and now three of the top five picks from the 2003 NBA Draft, and three close friends, will play together in South Florida for the next six seasons.
So, Chris brought in good friend Dwyane, who brought in good friend Lebron.
Lebron then brought in good friend Mike Miller.
Miller professed his self-proclaimed man-crush on James in May of 2009 via Twitter. The two grew close through their Nike association. Miller wore James’ Nike Zoom Soldier III last season, despite the urgings from his Wizard teammates.
Said James last season, “Mike is a good friend of mine. He named his son (Mavrick) after my best friend, Maverick (Carter). We have a good history.”
Miller’s agent, Arn Tellem, wrote on his website: “For the last week, Mike’s future hinged on Lebron’s. We talked to the Bulls, the New York Knicks, the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Los Angeles Clippers. The Knicks showed tremendous interest. Had the Cavaliers kept Lebron, Mike would have been a great fit for them, too. But Lebron was always the elephant in the room.”
LeBron picked Miami, so Miller followed.
And then Miller kept good friend Udonis Haslem from bolting from South Florida.
Think Haslem is happy to play with Miller again?
Said the man who’s played nearly his entire life playing basketball in the state of Florida (apart from one season in France): “That’s my boy from day one. That’s my college roommate. He’s like Dwyane is to me, just a different color.”
The linkages don’t stop there. Earlier today, James brought in good friend Zydrunas Ilgauskas to fill the void at center, a position at which the Heat has no current players under contract. Jamaal Magloire, a Wade friend, has made clear to the team his desire to return for a third season.
The city of Miami is holding up its end of the bargain too, attracting its own potential roster additions.
The Heat is currently in discussions with swingman James Jones on a potential minimum salary contract. Back in June, Jones granted his then former team a reduced buyout of his three-year partial guarantee, a shocking revelation for a man no longer affiliated with his former team. The move was awfully nice of Jones, who didn’t have to do it. Jones reduced his guarantee by $1 million, which at the time provided the Heat with the necessary cap space to pursue three max contract free agents.
Throughout his NBA career, despite previous stops in Indiana, Phoenix and Portland, Jones has always thought of the Miami Heat as his team. It may be again. The University of Miami star was overpaid at approximately $5 million per season, but would certainly be sacrificing bigger dollars to play for a minimum contract in the city he loves.
Raja Bell has thus far spurned more lucrative offers in an attempt to do the same. Despite being endorsed by Kobe Bryant, the journeyman guard rejected the Lakers’ multi-year contract offer of $1.8 million per year four days ago. The Lakers, along with the Spurs, continue in hot pursuit.
Bell said previously that he would welcome the opportunity to play for the Heat next season. “I’ll tell you like this, Pat. If you can use my services give me a call, I’m right around the corner, 36th and Biscayne. Give me a call.”
Hopefully, he gets his wish.
However it turns out, Pat Riley is building a group of players that love this city, that love each other, and that love the prospect of competing for multiple NBA championships. He’s building a team of tough competitors on the court, and close friends off of it. A far more talented, far less humble, version of the Oklahoma City Thunder, if you will. A far more generous collection of players than has ever been seen before in the history of professional sport.
It’s not only going to be enjoyable watching them hoist the championship trophy one day, it’s going to be enjoyable watching them hoist it together.