This summer, a group of NBA players will travel to London and compete for the gold medal. They’ll represent their country, be on the international stage, and be privy to a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
But that’s not good enough for Dwyane Wade. No, leading scorer on the 2008 national team that took gold in Beijing echoed the sentiments of Ray Allen – saying Olympians should be paid for their stint overseas.
"It's a lot of things you do for the Olympics -- a lot of jerseys you sell," Wade said. “We play the whole summer. I do think guys should be compensated. Just like I think college players should be compensated as well. Unfortunately, it's not there. But I think it should be something, you know, there for it."
In case you’re curious, Wade is earning over $15 million from the Miami Heat this year. He’ll earn roughly $10 million more in endorsements. So excuse me for not falling all over myself to agree with him.
Look, I’m a Wade fan. He’s a hell of a competitor and his charitable efforts in his hometown of Chicago are well-known. He’s a decent human being by all accounts. So perhaps his point was that you need a way to entice players to play for their country after a long and grueling NBA campaign.
It’s just sad that it’s come to this.
Before 1992, we fantasized about what it’d be like if professionals could compete in the Olympics. The original Dream Team dominating Barcelona remains one of my favorite two weeks in sporting history. Five Games later, we’re talking about giving these multimillionaires more incentive. Have things really changed that much in 20 years?
I don’t recall Charles Barkley and Michael Jordan complaining that the summer basketball would be too grueling. I don’t remember league brass fretting over their stars honing their games for the glory of the U.S.A.
Salaries have skyrocketed over the past 20 years. Money is the absolute least of NBA players’ problems. Are we supposed to believe an extra $500,000 – or whatever it would be – would be the tipping point for these guys?
The bigger issue with this type of talk is that it is wildly disrespectful of other Olympic athletes who toil in virtual anonymity, pining for the opportunity to medal for four years. If you open the Pandora’s Box of paying hoopsters, where does it stop?
Part of the Olympics’ draw is that it is amateurs. The rest of the sporting world revolves around professionals. What makes something different is also what makes it good.
Believe me, there’s much to dislike about the Games. Historically, it’s been more about politics than sports. Its governing body makes Chicago politics look clean. But deep down, at its core, there’s that bit of magic knowing that the end result isn’t just personal glory. It conjures up a nationalistic pride that is less xenophobic and more of the healthy variety. I don’t want to say that NBA stars have a duty to go perform for America, but they should feel, at the very least, compelled to do so without additional monetary compensation.
Conceivably, they like playing basketball. Conceivably, they’re incredibly competitive. The challenge of taking on the best players from outside the NBA with teammates they’d never get to play with otherwise should motivate them.
Wade’s situation is unique. He’s a two-time Olympian. He’s been there, done that. If he doesn’t want to subject his body to beating it will take in London, I have a simple solution for him: Don’t play. And then shut up.
The optimist in me wants to believe there are scores of superstars salivating to wear the red, white, and blue. I want to believe that these mega-millionaires are capable of being motivated by something other than money.
But, hey, maybe that feeling is un-American.