While quick to point out that he intends to play regardless, Dwyane Wade made all the sports talkers this last week when he hemmed and hawed over the notion that NBA players should get paid to take part in the Olympics. He made this claim for primarily two reasons:
1.) Lots of people are making money off of these famous players being in the Olympics, but the players don’t see a dime of it.
2.) They risk a ton of money, if not their careers, if they get injured while playing instead of resting up in the off-season.
This submission of “fair’s fair” from Wade provokes the first time that I can recall where I get to pull out my old man credentials against a grown man in his thirties in part because he’s too young to know any better. But I will get to that “back in my day” tirade at the end. Let’s first counter with a number of easy responses to Wade (and, to be fair, Ray Allen also) as regards this claim.
0.) No one’s making you play. This is basically the only response against Wade that I heard in all of sports talk radio, and it’s pretty damn disappointing. Yes, no one is making you represent your country, and you can appeal to patriotism all you want, but this is actually the WEAKEST argument to make. So weak that I didn’t even assign it a number you can divide by. I want to make counter-arguments not based on whether or not Wade plays, but under the assumption that he WILL play, and that this is about being treated fairly as an Olympian.
1.) First of all, Wade does get paid. The U.S. Olympic Committee pays out money to Olympians who win medals. Currently, it amounts to $25K for winning gold — which frankly the NBA-laden U.S. team damn well ought to do, and are rightly ridiculed when they don’t. Now granted, twenty-five thousand dollars isn’t a lot to an NBA superstar. Hell, twenty-five thousand probably doesn’t even pay for the insurance on the brand-new $230,000 McLaren luxury car that he got FOR FREE as a birthday present this year from a luxury car dealer. But it is a pretty cool chunk of change for your average part-time Olympian. (Although take a moment to appreciate that Michael Phelps would have netted $200,000 for his eight-gold-medal performance in 2008).
By the way, let’s delve into those other Olympians for a moment, beginning with….
2.) Wade can make money the same way other Olympians do — with sponsorships and endorsements. Of course, Wade already has those; it’s just that they are more tied to the NBA. He probably doesn’t get many individual pitches for him to pose with a can of Coke in his Team USA jersey, and they probably wouldn’t pay as much as his other endorsements anyway. But he could do it if he wanted to (I think….maybe the NBA or his agent has some sort of legal clause preventing it, I dunno….). But Wade doesn’t have to bother with them. He will never have to show up at a lawyer’s kid’s birthday party because the lawyer’s firm shelled out money to reserve a gym or a pool for Wade’s team to practice. Because, you see…
3.) Other Olympians have to work like hell just to raise the cash to train, travel, and compete. Many have regular jobs that have nothing at all to do with their particular event, and for which they need to get permission from their companies for time off just to participate (and graciously, they generally do). While perhaps the top performers in a sport can generate some name recognition and some other athletes are fortunate enough to have competitive circuits that allow the athletes to make money from their sport, your archers, your biathletes, your synchronized swimmers, your pole vaulters, etc. are driven to compete while still having to pay the rent or mortgage. If anybody needs to get paid more somehow, it’s these people. Because, OH YEAH…
4.) An injury for these Olympians can end their careers as well. It may not be tied to the event they were in, but a lot of jobs get hard to do with a broken leg, a torn ACL, or a traumatic brain injury. In fact, let’s not forget that, unlike with any Olympic basketball players that I can think of, a handful of Olympians have died during competition from accidents, collisions, heatstroke, etc. (Not to mention the Israeli athletes who were killed in Munich in 1972 by terrorists). I’m pretty sure the risk factor for Wade is below that of, say, a downhill luger or bobsledder.
5.) Here’s the big one. This is the one where I pull out my cane and tell the young whippersnapper that he’s got no appreciation for history. And that’s because he doesn’t. Dwyane Wade was born on January 17, 1982 (if I recall my own book on the matter). That was a mere two years after the United States boycotted the 1980 Olympics in Moscow, and a scant two years before they returned with a vengeance at home in Los Angeles in 1984, at which time the Soviets boycotted, freeing the U.S. of A. to kick some serious ass and basically whoop up on the rest of the entire world in just about every sport imaginable, including basketball.
At this time, the USA basketball team was made up mainly of top college kids because NBA players were ineligible to compete. At a time when basketball was still a second or third tier sport in the rest of the world, that was sufficient. However, hoop dreams were catching on, and the abilities of the rest of the world were starting to catch up. In fact, in 1988, the first time the US and the Soviet Union got to butt heads on the Olympic basketball court since the 70s, the Soviets stunned the U.S. by beating them in the quarterfinals. Dwyane Wade would have been six years old. It’s possible he might have memories of that, but I doubt it.
Shortly afterward, the international rules governing basketball changed to allow NBA players, professionals, to compete in the Olympics. The widespread assumption was that, having been humiliated, it was time to unleash the big dogs and show the world who was boss in B-ball, which the famous (or perhaps infamous, in the case of Charles Barkley, whose performance (while amazing) was well satirized by Dave Barry who noted in his game review against the non-existent Republic of Zwit that Barkley had been ejected in the third quarter for arson.) Nearly every US basketball Olympic team since has been a Dream Team since then (except when Wade’s Redeem Team had to step in to make up for an agonizingly shameful performance by the previous installment in 2004).
One could assume all that, but one would be wrong. You see, the move to include NBA players in the Olympics began in 1986, BEFORE the loss to the Soviets. One of the prescient leaders of the International Basketball Association had already realized that it didn’t matter to the rest of the world if they got destroyed by the best in the world. THEY WANTED TO PLAY THE BEST IN THE WORLD. Because in all these fledgling, developing, or growing basketball cultures around the world, the NBA was being looked to with the same admiration that they get here. In some cases, perhaps moreso. Even if they lost by a hundred points, an international team that got to play against a Michael Jordan or a Patrick Ewing would take that experience back home, and that enthusiasm built. It built into an international scene that spawned Yao Ming, Dirk Nowitzki, and Ricky Rubio, among many, many others. Players who have helped build the NBA into what it is today. And when those players’ countries buy jerseys, and NBA gear, and sneakers, and posters, and trading cards, they are putting money right in Dwyane Wade’s wallet.
And that’s why Dwyane Wade needs to shut up. Because he is getting paid. Not just in terms of patriotic reward, or publicity, or endorsements, or straight up cash at the Olympics, but in the way in which Dwyane Wade grows his own brand on an international scale just by showing up to play. It may not be direct math, but those economics are a part of why Dwyane Wade is sitting on a contract that will pay him over FIFTEEN MILLION DOLLARS a year, each year, through 2017.
I think he can weather the cost of national pride.