Kobe Bryant loosens his tie and leans back in his seat, struggling to swallow the Lakers’ latest home loss to Charlotte.
In minutes, he’ll chastise coach Mike D’Antoni and the effort of teammates to reporters before presenting no explanation as to why Los Angeles has dropped to 16-31 two weeks before the All-Star break.
Why is he befuddled? No doubt he wants to win and Bryant’s championship pedigree proves it, but mired in mediocrity, there’s nothing he can do this season for a franchise trying to stay relevant.
Bryant’s team has become the punchline for several bad Stephen A. Smith jokes and likely isn’t going to see drastic improvement this fall as he enters the first year of a $48.5 million extension he signed in November.
Bryant’s contract, coming off a torn Achilles, was a high-risk maneuver turned nightmare for general manager Mitch Kupchak — a gargantuan sum of cash paid to a sidelined mega-star on a bad team. From a previous deal, Bryant’s owed $30.5 million this season — tops in the league — and was expected back midseason as the immediate scoring option the offense needed.
The Lakers’ extension before Christmas was a personal thank you to Bryant’s contributions to the franchise as it undergoes an unwanted rebuilding phase. He immediately received flack for the deal, an agreement that damages Los Angeles’ chances at signing multiple players to reverse recent misfortune.
He wanted his money and got it.
“This wasn’t a negotiation,” Bryant said. “The Lakers made their offer with cap and building a great team in mind while still taking care of me as a player.”
If building a franchise around Nick Young is Bryant’s interpretation of improvement, so be it. He’s one of many high-profile athletes in professional sports who is no longer worth the value he’s given.
But as they say: Don’t hate the player, hate the game.
Soccer’s the most popular sport in the world and its star players are paid handsomely for their efforts. According to Forbes, Manchester United and Real Madrid are each valued at upwards of $2 billion with the New York Yankees coming in third at $1.88 billion.
In a recent ESPN The Magazine infographic, it was revealed FC Barcelona’s Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi are behind only Floyd Mayweather as the top-paid athletes in the world. Each player will make a cool $50 million this season, about $23.5 less than Pretty Boy.
Mayweather’s right hook would exceed the $100 million mark annually if the flamboyant boxer was willing to promote a brand and not himself. None of Mayweather’s earnings come from personal endorsements, ultimately his decision to buck the trend of headliners leaning on apparel deals for extra income.
Pay-per-view sponsorships — notably Showtime — leave excess bags of cash in Mayweather’s locker room, but outside endorsements are an untapped revenue source that’s been extremely kind to titans Tiger Woods, LeBron James and Ken Griffey Jr. in their individual respective sport.
The additional income on the side benefits the employer, too.
The Miami Heat’s getting their four-time MVP and two-time champion at the bargain rate of $19.3 million per season. By comparison, there’s 27 players in the NBA, MLB or NFL realm who make more in contract dollars than the greatest athlete in professional sports.
The New York Knicks, for instance, have two starters on payroll making more than James. Amar’e Stoudemire will rake in the last of his $21.7 million worth of game checks after Tuesday’s finale at Brooklyn while Carmelo Anthony, perhaps the league’s most overrated superstar, pockets $21.5 million.
The NBA’s the highest-paying league in the world with an average of $4.5 million per player, but New York’s not getting much bang for its buck. The Knicks have won just one playoff series since 2000 and over Anthony’s four seasons in the Big Apple, the enormous price tag for the former Syracuse star hasn’t translated to wins.
It’s well-documented that James took less money to leave Cleveland and partner up with Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade who, as a trio, left a staggering $45 million on the table so that Miami could afford the contracts. James and his personal entourage of businessmen, friends and associates have played their cards to near perfection off the court however, generating more than $40 million annually toward the King’s empire based on endorsement deals from Nike, Coca-Cola and McDonald’s among several others.
It’s a card several superstars would like to play, but most don’t have that maximum level of marketing power.
According to research firm SportsOneSource, James outsold his nearest NBA competitor in sneaker by a 6-to-1 margin stateside and is the NBA’s biggest endorsement star. It’s time Miami hires an intern to put together a care package this summer for Swoosh co-founder Phil Knight.
How much of a steal is James’ base salary? You may need to take a breather for this nugget: Gilbert Arenas, who is amnestied and hasn’t played in the NBA since the 2011-12 season, is owed $22.3 million this season by the Orlando Magic. That makes ‘Agent Zero’ the third highest-paid player in the league behind Dirk Nowitzki and Bryant.
“I’ve not had a max contract yet, it’s a story that’s been untold,” James said during a February 2013 interview with Forbes. “At the end of the day, I don’t think my value of what I do on the floor can be compensated anyway because of the CBA (collective bargaining agreement) if you want this truth. If this was baseball, I’d be up there.”
Some professional franchises in revenue-producing markets, like the Los Angeles and New York, can afford to burn cash during disappointing seasons while others struggle to compete when the bottom line’s a nearly unstoppable foe. The Tampa Bay Rays, known for winning with a small payroll by division leader standards, avoided arbitration in January with franchise pitcher David Price after agreeing to pay to the 2012 Cy Young winner $14 million this season.
Price is Tampa Bay’s key to the postseason and an injury would deflate the value of the deal. Should Clayton Kershaw or CC Sabathia go down for the Dodgers of the Yankees, those teams have the funds to lure a player away with a blank check.
The Rays don’t have that luxury.
Looking at baseball’s top salaries, the Philadelphia Phillies have three of the game’s six highest-paid players. First baseman Ryan Howard tips the scales at $25 million, the same number given to 35-year-old lefty Cliff Lee. Franchise player Cole Hamels, who has started this season on the disabled list, comes in just ahead of Yankees slugger Mark Teixieria No. 6 on the list at $23.5 million.
Coming off a fourth-place finish in the NL East, the contracts of those three players in Philly exceed the payrolls of seven teams, with $16.5 million to spare in Tampa Bay. That’s enough cash for an A-list slugger or two additional arms on staff.
Then there’s players like Mike Trout who the Angels are paying the Family Dollar sale price of $510,000 for this spring. Certainly the most underpaid and likely best young player in baseball this season, he cashed in on his upside in March when he inked a 6-year extension for $140 million.
In an age where contract complaints from the middle-class are endless, some of the world’s greatest athletes aren’t always bringing in the bevy of coin you’d expect.
Reach Brad Crawford at 910-272-6111 or on Twitter @MrPalmettoSDS.
25 Highest-Paid Professional Athletes
1) Floyd Mayweather Jr., $73.5 million (Boxing)
2) Cristiano Ronaldo, $50.2 (La Liga, Soccer)
3) Lionel Messi, $50.1 (La Liga)
4) Aaron Rodgers, $40 (NFL)
5) Zlatan Ibrahimovic, $35 (Ligue 1)
6) Matt Stafford, $31.5 (NFL)
7) Tom Brady, $31 (NFL)
8) Kobe Bryant, $30.5 (NBA)
9) Matt Ryan, $30 (NFL)
9) Joe Flacco, $30 (NFL)
11) Zach Greinke, $28 (MLB)
12) Fernando Alonso, $27.5 (Formula One)
12) Lewis Hamilton, $27.5 (Formula One)
14) Tony Romo, $26.5 (NFL)
15) Wayne Rooney, $26 (EPL)
16) Ryan Howard, $25 (MLB)
16) Calvin Johnson, $25 (NFL)
16) Cliff Lee, $25 (MLB)
16) Peyton Manning, $25 (NFL)
20) Robinson Cano, $24 (MLB)
20) Prince Fielder, $24 (MLB)
20) Wladimir Klitschko, $24 (Boxing)
23) Cole Hamels, $23.5 (MLB)
24) Mark Teixeira, $23.1 (MLB)
25) Joe Mauer, $23 (MLB)
25) Albert Pujols, $23 (MLB)
25) CC Sabathia, $23 (MLB)
These figures are in base salary or prize money. Endorsements not included. This information was taken from an infographic published by ESPN The Magazine.