Saturday, October 18, 2008

"Joe the Plumber" and the NBA

You can't turn around these days without hearing about the sour economy and Congress' recent $840 billion bailout package.

It seems every single double-talking politician and pundit is talking about the problems on "Wall Street" and how they are affecting "Main Street."

In fact, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac have gotten so much television time, it's almost like they are now a part of American pop culture.

Now Joe Wurzelbacher, aka "Joe the Plumber," is getting his 15 minutes of fame after Republican presidential hopeful John McCain made him the face of his campaign during Wednesday's debate.

In case you missed it, "Joe the Plumber" came to prominence last week as a working class everyman when he asked Democratic nominee Barack Obama about his plan to raise taxes on small businesses during a campaign stop.

In a colossal gaffe, Obama, the prohibitive favorite to win November's election, told Wurzelbacher he didn't want to "punish him" but "he would like to "spread the wealth around."

Pouncing on a redistribution of wealth theme, conservatives have embraced Wurzelbacher in an attempt to attack Obama's tax policies.

Which brings us full circle to the NBA and a looming problem.

David Stern has already slashed his own staff.
Usually when times are tough and families are having trouble filling up the gas tank or paying the mortgage, they look for escapist entertainment. And sure enough, sports fans are still attending live events at a brisk pace and watching on television with incredible fervor.

The entertainment industry has always been recession-proof. However, that doesn't mean complications aren't around the corner for the NBA.

Wary of the weakening economy, commissioner Davis Stern has already slashed his own staff.

"We made a decision some months ago that the economy was going to be a bit wobbly, so we began a belt-tightening that will result in a work-force reduction of about 9 percent domestically," Stern said in London last week.

Of course, fans really aren't going to be interested in cuts at the league office, but what if the economy hurts the product on the floor?

Well, it already has.

Since football is a uniquely American sport, Roger Goodell doesn't have to worry about foreign leagues stealing players. A few other countries play baseball but none are an alternative to the big leagues. In basketball and hockey, sports with worldwide followings and numerous competitive leagues around the globe, things are different.

The NBA has been especially hard hit this offseason, with a handful of legitimate rotation players fleeing overseas.

The most high-profile defection took place when former Atlanta Hawks forward Josh Childress, an excellent young player, signed with Greek powerhouse Olympiakos Piraeus for three years and $20 million.

That wasn't the only defection. Earl Boykins, who spent 10 years in the NBA as a backup point guard, inked with Virtus Bologna of Italy for one year and $3.5 million.

Another backup point, Carlos Arroyo, is off to Israel after signing a three- year deal with Maccabi Tel-Aviv, while Bostjan Nachbar, Nenad Krstic, and Primoz Brezec took advantage of all the oil money in Russia.

A handful of other players that could have been on NBA rosters like Brandon Jennings, Juan Carlos Navarro, Earl Barron, Jannero Pargo, Gordan Giricek and Carlos Delfino followed suit and are now toiling overseas.

All that may raise the ire of the hardcore basketball fan, but few will notice the problem until a true superstar flees.

Two of the game's biggest stars, LeBron James and Kobe Bryant, have actually broached the subject of accepting offers from Euro teams that could go as high as $50 million per season.

Should Stern and the NBA's fans start getting nervous?

Maybe.

While NBA players pay taxes on their own salaries in the United States, a sum that will surely rise under a presumptive Obama presidency, European teams have made it a standard practice to pay the taxes of their stars.

That would make the real value of a one-year, $50 million dollar deal overseas worth $66 to $70 million for an NBA team.

I wonder what "Joe the Plumber" would think about that.
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