Saturday, July 10, 2010



With the rest of the world focused on the World Cup finals, America’s latest obsession was the decision of free agent NBA star LeBron James. Who would he choose to bless with his awesome talent and inspiring humility? After seven years of service, would he really turn his back on his hometown team? How much would he command?

In the most highly anticipated sporting event since the superb debut of Stephen Strasburg or the horrendous first post-trauma “press conference” of Tiger Woods, King James answered all questions with one word: Miami.

The Miami Heat had already signed superstar Chris Bosh and resigned superstar Dwyane Wade. With the addition of LeBron, Miami becomes the odds on favorite to win the NBA title and more importantly the team with the greatest star-driven marketability (unless you count Jack Nicholson with the Lakers). He reportedly will receive less than the Cleveland Cavaliers would have paid but if it translates into a string of championships the money will be astronomical.

Then there’s the glory. Let’s face it: You can’t be the King if your team is not a champion. The problem is: You can have three wise men but you can’t have three kings. No one knows how it will play out but if King James is reduced to Prince LeBron the dream may begin to unravel.

As a fan whose inclination is to root for the underdog (when my dog is not the hunt) this may be the first season since the days of Magic and Kareem when I root for the Lakers.

On a grander scale, if sport is a microcosm for the world at large, this is just the latest symptom of a disturbing economic trend: the rich get richer and richer and richer…

Fact: In 1970 the ratio of CEO (Chief Executive Officer) to average worker pay was 25:1. By 2000 it rose to 90:1. When stock options and other benefits are factored in the equation the latest estimate is 500:1.

Fact: The top one percent of the national population tripled its after tax income between 1980 and 2006 while the bottom 90% of the population declined by 20%. That elite one percent now owns 70% of the nation’s financial assets.

Fact: In 2009 while the nation’s workforce was suffering layoffs, reduced pay and benefits in the wake of the financial crisis, Wall Street doled out $150 billion in bonus checks: enough to pay five million people a salary of $30,000.

Fact: We now have the greatest inequality of wealth in the industrialized world.

[Memo to the Tea Party: Income inequality is antithesis to socialism. Our system is therefore so far removed from socialist you would be wiser and more credible to refer to the current administration as fascist though you would be hard pressed to distinguish it from prior administrations.]

What can we do? We are ostensibly a democracy. We could refuse to empower candidates who accept corporate contributions but we don’t. We could refuse to reward corporate crooks like Meg Whitman or Carly Fiorina. We could insist on candidates who pledge to close the gap, to restore the goal of full employment, who value wages and worker rights over corporate favoritism (deregulation and tax breaks) but we don’t.

In the Sportsland analogy we could boycott the Miami Heat. We could refuse to tune in for that championship season. We could refuse to buy the King James jersey. We could confine the fan base to Miami. But we won’t.

Like a train wreck we have to watch – even if we are watching our own demise.

See: “The Rise of the Economic Elite” by David DeGraw, Dissident Voice, February 17, 2010.