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NBA: Free Agency, Steph Curry And More


Let's talk basketball for a few minutes. Sure, you're probably watching baseball or tennis or NASCAR or cycling right now, but this is the time of year when the business side of hoops kicks into high gear. This weekend marked the start of free agency. That means that players who are eligible for free agency are signing huge contracts. The Golden State Warriors' Steph Curry just signed a $200 million deal, the richest in league history.

But here's a thing that's also getting a lot of attention, some players are taking less money to play for teams they prefer, teams that they think can better set them up for championship contention. Think LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh in Miami. Jerry Brewer just wrote about this for The Washington Post where he's a columnist, and he's with us now via Skype. Jerry Brewer, thanks so much for speaking with us.

JERRY BREWER: Thanks for having me.

MARTIN: So first, let's talk about the money because the numbers seem staggering. How is it that players are able to command such high salaries?

BREWER: Well, when the NBA did their new television deal, it was a mega-billion-dollar deal. And salary is a function of revenue, so the salary cap in the NBA has shot up. It was $70 million in 2015. It's shot up to 94 for the 2016-'17 season. And now for the '17-'18 season, it's going to go up to 99 million. So salaries are rising because the salary cap is going up.

MARTIN: But you also pointed out in your column that money isn't everything for these players. I mean, for example, that, you know, Los Angeles Clippers just traded Chris Paul - their star point guard - to the Houston Rockets. He actually took less money to play for what he hopes might be the latest super team. And I just want to read a line from your column.

You said, (reading) the modern NBA superstar is the most powerful genre of athlete in American professional team sports history. Those elite players have it all - the riches, the platform, the influence, the savvy about the league's business and the audacity to use everything for their own good no matter the consequences. The latter two things, the know-how and the nerve, frighten and intrigue at once. It's an uneasy feeling because it's unfamiliar.

Uneasy to who?

BREWER: I think it's uneasy for fans who would like there to be a little more competitive balance. I think it's uneasy for - definitely owners. The NBA has a super-max system now that they're trying to do something where if you have a star, you can pay him more to stay with you than to take less to go. But the stars are saying, you know what? That's very nice that you're offering me $42 million a year. Let me think about it.

Which is just unprecedented. These guys make so much money off the court in terms of shoe deals and endorsements, so they have a lot of power because they have the power to say no and change a system which is designed for the guy to just take the most money and be happy.

MARTIN: Is the issue here for fans that if just a few teams would command all of the attention that that somehow would be bad for the league on the whole?

BREWER: That is the argument. I mean, what's the point in following a league for six months of regular season and two months of the playoffs just when we know that it's going to be Cleveland and Golden State again? I would argue, though, that the intrigue of the NBA has never been about widespread parity. It's always been about super teams and dominance.

It's interesting now, though, the difference is is that it's not just big-market team doing the dominating. It is Golden State, which went 40 years without a championship before they put this team together. It's Cleveland, which has had a really tough run until LeBron James came. It's not just about the market anymore, it's about which organizations are going to have the competence to help me reach my goals.

MARTIN: That's Jerry Brewer. He's a columnist for The Washington Post. We reached him via Skype. Jerry, thanks so much for speaking with us.

BREWER: Anytime.

(SOUNDBITE OF JOHN TESH'S "ROUNDBALL ROCK") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Michel Martin is the weekend host of All Things Considered, where she draws on her deep reporting and interviewing experience to dig in to the week's news. Outside the studio, she has also hosted "Michel Martin: Going There," an ambitious live event series in collaboration with Member Stations.