#360USA: NBA’s finest not the only ones hitting the jackpot

Steve Brenner 07:00 12/07/2016
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Conley's new deal highlights the TV-fuelled riches in the sport.

It’s already one of the great sports quiz questions. Who were the first three NBA players to earn more than $30 million a season?

Two are glaringly obvious. One, however, is the product of the cash hungry free agency window of 2016 which will go down in folklore as the time basketball changed forever.

For the record – and make you sure you note it down – the answer is Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant and, of course, Mike Conley.

Two absolute, blockbuster legends. And a point guard for the Memphis Grizzlies.

Now Conley is no slouch. His career stats – 13.6 points and 5.6 assists per game – don’t do justice to his ability on the court.

He is, however, no Jordan. He’s no Kobe either. Yet like the Jump Man himself, Conley is basking in the kind of riches one can only dream of. His $153m, five-year contract is quite incredible.

“I’ve hit the lottery,” the 28- year-old said of the richest deal in history.

And for that he can thank the good people of ESPN and their fellow TV friends who struck a nine-year, $24 billion deal which comes into force when the new campaign starts later this year.

Considering that is a mere 180 per cent better than the last one, it’s fair to say it’s boom time right now.

Some believe the bubble will burst and that with channels like ESPN received by 92m people, the money for TV rights is simply recycled from ever single cable customer – fan or not.

The common man unwittingly helping the corporate fat cats. Is it sustainable? Debatably.

The alternative of ESPN, TNT and TBS showing live action would be something like a season pass for the NFL – yet the Sunday Ticket only has sales of two million.

“This is great for the sport, “ countered NFL agent and sports industry veteran Lynn Lashbrook to Sport360. “I don’t think the bottom will fall out. It reflects the popularity of sport.“

The astonishing windfall has ensured teams now have around $24m more to spend and players have the ability to command some quite incredible sums.

Wage caps are on the up. From $70m last season to $94m now. It will smash through the $100m barrier in 2017. It wasn’t just free agents like Conley who cashed in. Timofey Mozgov, who notched an average of 6.3 points last season, has just signed a four-year deal worth $64m with the LA Lakers.

Bit part Cleveland Cavaliers guard Matthew Dellavedova joined the Milwaukee Bucks for $38m stretched over four years.

Stars like Kevin Durant are deemed to be worth every penny though the so called ‘ Middle Class’ have had no hesitation about jumping aboard the NBA gravy train. Yet while the fans rub their eyes in disbelief, the good, great and concussed of the NFL are fighting with the green eyed monster.

Last season's NBA highest earners

  • Kobe Bryant $25,000,000 Los Angeles Lakers
  • LeBron James $22,970,500 Cleveland Cavaliers
  • Carmelo Anthony $22,875,000 New York Knicks
  • Dwight Howard $22,359,364 Houston Rockets

For while in the NBA (and the MLB), the deals agreed ensure guaranteed money, the same cannot be said in the NFL.

Huge signing-on fees help stars cash in. Thanks to the nature of American Football, careers are shorter, futures are uncertain.

Clubs can wriggle out after a couple of years. Andrew Luck , a former no1 draft pick, just signed a five-year, $123m contract. Only $87m, however, is guaranteed.

“These NBA deals are insane. I have to google the players,“ said DeAngelo Williams of the Carolina Panthers.

The issue is complex. In accordance with the latest labor deal, NBA players are allocated around half of all revenue – $3bn.

It’s not as straightforward in the NFL. Splits on $12bn are based on income source and money generated by stadiums among other. Yet it’s spread over almost four times as many athletes.

So it means the average NFL salary comes in at $3.5m, while in the NBA that figure is roughly $6.7m. As ever in the often head spinning world of American sport, the minutia is mind bending.

The bottom line is this: It’s one hell of a good time to be a basketball player but they must enjoy it while it lasts.

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