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The Result of Winning Over Money, Friendship Over Fame

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One has to wonder if the enormous salaries the NBA offers has 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. Haslem instead chose Miami for $20 million over five. That’s a hefty 39% 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 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 alongside his good friend LeBron James. 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 to make it happen were substantial.  Miller drew widespread interest from suitors prepared to pay substantially more than can the Heat. The New York Knicks and Los Angeles Clippers each reportedly offered him a five-year contract worth an estimated $50 million. Miller has instead chosen to to accept an estimated five-year $30 million contract from the Heat. That’s another largely disregarded 4o% discount.

When added together, the numbers are staggering:

Mike Miller: $20,000,000 (Estimated)
Dwyane Wade: $17,944,483
LeBron James: $15,671,983
Chris Bosh: $15,671,983
Udonis Haslem: $13,137,000
Total Discount: $82,425,449

That’s more than what 27 of the league’s 30 teams project to spend next season.

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 Wade and Miller brought in good friend Udonis Haslem.

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 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 salary contract in the city he loves.

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 more talented, less humble, version of the Oklahoma City Thunder, if you will. A 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.

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  1. Fly N Dance
    July 13th, 2010 at 21:27 | #1

    i agree, they would love playing with each other because they are real good friends.
    i’m sure Melo and CP3 wanted to join them. lol

  2. wasabi
    July 13th, 2010 at 22:41 | #2

    Im new to this site but great work. Well written article. Definitely got this site on bookmark. Will be checking regularly for updates!

  3. vincent
    July 13th, 2010 at 23:38 | #3

    Albert is MM trying to sign TPE create by sign Beasley

  4. vincent
    July 13th, 2010 at 23:39 | #4

    create by trade Beasley or is he waiting on MHeat to renouce JA .

  5. July 13th, 2010 at 23:50 | #5

    @vincent
    Sorry, do you mind restating your question?

  6. javier
    July 14th, 2010 at 00:09 | #6

    Great article, Albert, you really nailed the beauty of all this.

  7. vincent
    July 14th, 2010 at 00:37 | #7

    Reports are floating around that Mike Mille has yet to sign…

    What could the hold up be …
    If Miller’agent is trying to hold out for more money ,where would it come for…

    I know the Heat can renounce JA and create 1million dollar more in cap space
    or
    Do the Heat have a TPE for Beasley , in which the Heat can do a S&T with Memphis

  8. July 14th, 2010 at 00:42 | #8

    @vincent
    I’ve seen the same reports that you have, but don’t worry. Miller’s agent confirmed Tuesday night that a deal with the Heat has been reached and is merely pending completion of the paperwork.

    A minor note: The Beasley trade did not create a trade exception for the Heat.

  9. ChAmo
    July 14th, 2010 at 14:49 | #9

    Amazing article buddy, great job on writing from a different angle.

  10. Cliff Buckson
    July 14th, 2010 at 19:04 | #10

    Could you please explain to me how exactly LeBron James and his 1 hour infomercial, featuring commercials starring LeBron, are his way of choosing ANYTHING over fame?

    He’s said repeatedly that his #1 career goal is to be a “global icon”…

    How is he choosing anything over fame?

    And didn’t he just leave behind an entire team full of friends? He didn’t choose friendship over anything… And he certainly didn’ tchoose it over fame…

    He chose an elite teammate over friendship. He chose nothing over fame.. never has..

  11. Tyrone Slothrop
    July 14th, 2010 at 19:27 | #11

    Cliff sounds like a spurned lover. Strange that. Now, to be sure, and I know some of you Heat fans disagree, his 1 hour “decision” bullshyt was over the top, insidious and just plain ruthless to his fans in Cleveland. However, his #1 career goal has never been to be global icon, plus he’s already there. It has been to be known as the greatest basketball player ever. He just made that goal much harder to attain to the lay fan and idiotic sports journalist, but I’m betting 4 or 5 championships on top of his maddening numbers on top of his unbelievable play, he may indeed make a play for that honor after it is all said and done.

  12. Fly N Dance
    July 14th, 2010 at 20:41 | #12

    it’s plain logic, Lebron doesn’t much give care about his MVP titles, he wants championship rings. now that he’s with DWade and CB, MVP would be pretty much elusive now that his stats would definitely go low. chances would be KD next year. so with that alone, i’ll give it to LeBron.

  13. Fly N Dance
    July 14th, 2010 at 20:50 | #13

    and one more thing, Cleveland should be grateful, LeBron has made them exprerienced NBA finals.

  14. Cliff Buckson
    July 14th, 2010 at 21:41 | #14

    Tyrone Slothrop : However, his #1 career goal has never been to be global icon, plus he’s already there. .

    Dude, those were LeBron James’ words… not mine… he was interviewed, the question was “What is the ultimate goal that you would like to accomplish in your career?” His answer… “Global Icon”….

    I’m not making this up. These were his words… Christ, do some research..

  15. Tyrone Slothrop
    July 14th, 2010 at 21:48 | #15

    Cliff, he also said dozens of times, that he wanted to be the best player in the history of the game. He’s already reached global icon status. I don’t know how much you know about James, but I heard the guy say the same stuff for the last 7 years. Being the best player in the world was and always will be his number one goal.

    Fly N Dance, I keep on hearing that about James. “His numbers will go down,so he won’t get MVP.” MVP usually goes to the best player on the best team. His numbers may go down, but he is still going to put up crazy numbers (efficiency wise), so I think his MVP chances are still pretty good. That is unless Wade gets it 🙂

  16. lucas fb
    July 14th, 2010 at 21:59 | #16

    @Cliff Buckson
    i couldnt agree with u more, Cliff!!!
    really,really,realy in did!!!

    lebron choose to blood suck wade talent,skill set,strong mentality to be the player he never would be(learning things from mo or any cav).
    how he cant beat a wade strong team,he joined.

    but even the paycut size show players hearts real size. wade is the one with the bigger paycut,and that being that he was the one who stayed home,and should have the right of earnong more than lebron.

    if heat fans starting to show more love to the egomaniac queen lebiatch jamisses more than wade,i ll be really sick,and ll take their skin off,(the brain?real heat fans who chose like this,just dont have a brain)!!! im serious,so be loyal,you queen nut huggers!!!

  17. Fly N Dance
    July 15th, 2010 at 00:02 | #17

    @Tyrone, pretty much he’ll still be competing for the MVP race, but he’ll be toe to toe with DWade, if u have noticed on recent team ups along with bosh like in the olympics, or in all star games, usually Dwade is the scoring machine, then there’s the other strong contenders: durant, kobe and dwight.

    although, who knows right. we will see next season…

  18. lucas fb
    July 15th, 2010 at 02:05 | #18

    tyrone i ve never seen u here. so im thinking u r a “new heat fan”(there s plenty of those). not a real heat fan.

    i dont know u,so is just a guess based on the few facts i have on my disposal.
    but fans like u ll chear for another team,4 years from now,maybe.

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