Other People’s Money

Hearing athletes bitch about money is low on a fan’s wish last. But last summer when John Wall vented about his salary being the same salary as Reggie Jackson’s salary (who had just signed a max deal) I laughed out loud because Wall was totally unfiltered in that moment, dead as a door nail honest. Wall wasn’t so much telling the truth as he was telling his truth.

Why should Jackson be in the same stratosphere as John Wall? He wasn’t a number one draft pick. He’s not the face of his franchise. He hasn’t had to endure the nitpicking and deconstruction of his game and his life. He hasn’t been mocked and doubted and asked to lead a team to the playoffs.

Circle the drain. One year later, another summer, and according to a report, John Wall was a little bit ticked at the James Harden extension. Wall vehemently denied it but he has this history of complaining about contracts. Last year’s Reggie Jackson tantrum is in the books. This year, his own teammate, (Bradley Beal), was pushed under the John Wall bus when Wall said, “now that you have your money, you have to go out and improve your game.”

If Harden and his money rankles Wall it is obvious why. Wall is one of the best- if not the best- defensive guards in the game. He cares about stopping the best guard on the floor; Harden does not. Harden’s defense is apathetic and that is a compliment. At their respective positions, John Wall was ranked 15th this past season in defensive impact and Harden was ranked 48th (Defensive Real Plus-Minus). Wall’s other targets of critique, Bradley Beal and Reggie Jackson, were ranked 79th and 54th.

The ability to put up numbers in a league with intricate game plans designed to stop you is what gets you paid. James Harden (29.0 points, 7.5 asssits) carries his team by himself with his offense, something Wall is incapable of doing and is dependent on Bradley Beal for.

That being said, John Wall is a franchise player, a top 10 point guard, possibly the fastest guard in the NBA. Unlike Jackson and Beal, he’s an All-Star.

John Wall’s reaction to Reggie Jackson, Bradley Beal and James Harden tells you everything about how the Wizards point guard feels about himself. He thinks he is an elite player, despite his game saying otherwise. I don’t knock him for confidence. But here’s a note to John Wall: perception is not reality when money is involved. Equal money does not mean equal value. Athlete X and Athlete Y get paid the same so they are the same; think that and you’ll get sucker punched in every business deal you enter into.

The Collective Bargaining Agreement has as its primary function salary depression of the top income earners or, in this case, the face of the franchise star players like John Wall.

Wall was unlucky. His extension came too early to reap the mammoth rewards. But in 2019, Wall will get his.

There is an irony here fans don’t want to acknowledge. Professional athletics is the only league in which the labor force is undercompensated. It’s capitalism with the flu. Supply meets demand but the revenue streamers, the NBA stars, are underpaid to everyone’s agreement.

At the NBA Players Associations Awards last summer,  Jalen Rose mentioned that only 1 NBA player had a $125 million dollar contract while MLB had 31 such contracts. But then the NBA has a salary cap and MLB does not. A salary cap disregards a player’s impact on the hotel business, the restaurant and bar business, the shoe business, the athletic apparel business, the television business, the advertising business. In that sense, I get John Wall’s point. It’s not to diss Reggie Jackson (well only a little), or Bradley Beal (only a little), or James Harden (a lot), but to say I should be making more. If Reggie Jackson is making $14 million, and Bradely Beal is making $22 million, and James Harden is making $26 million, I should be making more than $16 million. People come to Verizon Center, and around the league, to see me.

This summer of crazy money the largest contracts were LeBron James ($100 million), James Harden ($118 million), C.J. McCollum ($106 million), Bradley Beal ($128 million), DeMar DeRozan ($145 million), Andre Drummond ($130 million), NIcolas Batum ($120 million), Mike Conley ($153 million), Al Horford ($113 million).

John Wall is head above water, floating downstream range, but he still feels underpaid. For what he has to do in leading the Wizards to the Eastern Conference Finals, a feat he has not accomplished, there is no adequate compensation and that’s the problem with the entire structure. There should be a face of the franchise tax. 15%. Face of the franchise gets a 15% upfront bonus because they are the ones that take on all of the unrequited love and blame, and have to do everything.

John Wall has developed into a nice player over these past few years. He’s not LeBron James and he’s not Chris Paul and he’s not Steph Curry. But he’s John Wall and he does John Wall things. He’s athletic and explosive, a mediocre shooter with exceptional playmaking abilities. He’s a good leader and hard nose competitor that doesn’t quit in games or shy away from competition.

Reggie Jackson and John Wall are not in the same talent stratosphere, except the Collective Bargaining Agreement says they are, says players are alike, says there is very little differentiation from 18.8 points and 6.2 assists (Reggie Jackson) and 19.9 points and 10.2 assists (John Wall).

Who is better? Who deserves more money? It is an irrelevant argument. With maturity, John Wall will figure out NBA salary life is not about what you deserve. It’s about what you can negotiate.

To keep it real, what John Wall should really be upset about is his team failing to make the playoffs, and his still anemic jump shot, and his turnovers. The rest of it, to fans, is just rich people’s problems.


photo via llananba