Oh, These Poor, Billionaire NBA Owners

By the time you read this, the lockout could be over. Also, by the time you read this, I could be dunking right after finishing my four-minute mile. The owners have locked the doors and will not reopen them until the Players Association can, to quote David Stern’s own words, “guarantee profitability” for every team. Stern’s favorite subject these days is how the billionaires he represents are just losing money hand over fist. These are the wronged parties: the hard-working, exploited, victimized chief executives sacrificing their hard-earned fortunes just to overpay their ungrateful players and provide us simple fans with entertainment.


SLAM readers who resign themselves to the sports page shouldn’t be fooled. What Stern and company are doing is just the sports page wing of an all-out public relations offensive on behalf of the trampled-upon-rights of your friendly, neighborhood billionaire. Pass the Alka Seltzer. Poverty might be at a 20-year high. Public workers, like teachers, firefighters and postal workers, are being laid off in droves. Our infrastructure may be rotting. Yet billionaires pay fewer taxes than ever and a broad based call has gone out for them to pay their share.  As billionaire Warren Buffet has said, he actually pays a lower tax rate than his secretary. The “wronged billionaire,” who is just trying to create jobs in between carrying our economy, has become been created out of whole cloth to stifle, confuse and silence our rage. As one “wronged billionaire”, Washington Wizards owner Ted Leonsis said recently, “Economic Success has somehow become the new boogie man; some in the Democratic party are now casting about for enemies and business leaders and anyone who has achieved success in terms of rank or fiscal success is being cast as a bad guy in a black hat. This is counter to the American Dream and is really turning off so many people that love American and basically carry our country on their aying taxes and by employing people and creating GDP.”


Ted Leonsis also claims to be losing money by the boatload. The problem is that it’s all an artfully crafted lie. Leonsis and other NBA owners might be losing money on the team, as bestselling author Malcolm Gladwell recently explained, but that’s just one part of the story. It doesn’t take into account the mammoth tax breaks, the publicly funded arena, and the immediate real estate that surrounds their home base.


Factor those in and, well, there’s a reason why Ted Leonsis is a billionaire. To create the Verizon Center in the heart of DC’s Chinatown, residential housing was razed, businesses were shuttered and families were priced out of the neighborhood. Now instead of Chinese families, we have Starbucks and Chipotle with Chinese lettering above their blaring signage. As for “carrying the country” on his back, Leonsis might want to thank his army of minimum wage Verizon Center workers for keeping his ample frame in fancy suits.

Behind every great fortune is truly a great crime.


The owners of the NBA and David Stern have failed. They’ve failed to be accountable to the communities they’ve raided and to the players they’ve willingly and happily put under contract. For them to cry about how put upon they are in a country where almost 20 percent of the population can’t find work is obscene.


This is why Gladwell, who is no radical, ended his column by writing, “We have moved from a country of relative economic equality to a place where the gap between rich and poor is exceeded by only Singapore and Hong Kong. The rich have gone from being grateful for what they have to pushing for everything they can get. They have mastered the arts of whining and predation, without regard to logic or shame. In the end, this is the lesson of the NBA lockout.”


He’s right. I choose to stand with Zach Randolph. Z-Bo said, “I’m definitely supporting the union. And we all should. This is something I’ve never been through so it’s frustrating, but all of the players should stick together. If that’s a sacrifice we have to make (in order) to make it better for the future then, yeah, I’m OK with it.”


I’m not OK with this lockout. I’m not OK with missing hoop. But I’m less OK with billionaires who lie about their losses because they want a few dollars more.


[Dave Zirin is the author of “The John Carlos Story” (Haymarket) and just made the new documentary “Not Just a Game.” Receive his column every week by emailing dave@edgeofsports.com. Contact him at edgeofsports@gmail.com.]

9 Reader Comments | Add a comment

Me Too

It's hard for me to get worked up about billionaires since I want to be one myself. Concerning Dave's statement: "behind every great fortune is truly a great crime" I assume he wouldn't apply this to George Soros since he and DZ share similiar views on many issues. So Soros would probably be a "good" billionaire.

A few columns back DZ had the correct answer for the NBA lockout. There should be revenue sharing in the NBA but this won't happen because of greed and tradition.BTW would NBA players agree to revenue sharing amongst themselvles. It would be a hard sell.

I applaud Warren Buffett for bringing up the unfair tax issue. So, Dave, is Buffett a good or bad billionaire? And in your heart of hearts wouldn't you like to be one also?

Comrade Zirin --fake DC resident

This shows you how little time Comrade Zirin actually spends in DC. Although he's said that he lives "in Washington." Elsewhere, he's admitted to living the leafy, white suburbTakoma Park).

The vaunted Chinatown businesses that you claim were driven out actually took major buyouts. Those that have remained have benefitted mightily from the Verizon Center.

Anyone who spent any time in DC in the 1990s knows that DC's Chinatown was increasingly decaying into a drug-ridden ghetto. The most prevalent "residents" were heroin addicts. The Verizon Center was a big step forward for everyone.

Behind every great fortune is truly a great crime.


It's amazing how people just worship at the altar of money nowadays. To answer the question, "in your heart of hearts, wouldn't you like to be a billionaire yourself," my answer is honestly No. I'd like to live in a society where nobody is super-rich and nobody super-poor, because in a society like that people aren't at each others' throats and you can actually form meaningful connections with others.

This whole "let's not tax billionaires 'cuz I'm gonna be one" mindset is a product of the current America, where you have nothing if you're not filthy, stinking rich.

So -- rather than change the society to make it liveable for everyone, just keep on dreaming of hitting the big time yourself.

What a paucity of imagination we have these days.

I'm Shocked

Shocked that James F. is so blatently against the poor. Why you ask. Because with my billion I'm going to give 99% of it to James so he can give it to the super-poor of his choosing. Another missed opportunity.

Tornado--Stalker supreme

It's really nice to know about how much you know about Dave's personal life and are willing to share it with all of us Tornado. If you're trying to discredit or shame him--I know he could care less about what you're trying to do.

Yet, I would venture to say that if anyone were to find out about your personal life and post it on here--where you live, your little secrets, etc.--you'd be the first one to throw a fit and claim "invasion of privacy." And threaten everyone with a lawsuit as well. Let's see how much you like it if it happens.

And to the subject at hand. . .

I'm becoming more and more convinced that this just isn't your average pro sports labor dispute--it's becoming a all-out power grab by David Stern. Why he's doing it, I really don't know. And I had mentioned in a previous column that I compared him with the Peter Falk dictator character that increasingly became paranoid in a classic Twilight Zone episode. That opinion hasn't changed.

II think I also may have done this before, but I'll quote noted fussbudget and philosopher Lucy Van Pelt from a classic 60s Peanuts comic strip:

"Greed makes people do very strange things."

Who Cares?

I'm a fan of Dave's work, but why should I care about this issue? The owners are incompetent capitalists who crave socialist solutions. The players are a-political entertainers who care only about themselves. Dwayne Wayne was reportedly enraged that Stern pointed his finger at him. Where is his outage at Lebron's Nike $$$. Neither party cares about the fans nor the public good.

Billionaires have mastered the art of extortion.

Billionaires have mastered the art of extortion. They have figured out how to get subsidized stadiums funded by the city and state, just as they manage to relocate other businesses, such as automobile manufacturers, to other localities or offshore, that will not tax them for public services while public service providers suffer austerity.

The parasite billionaires managed to extort billions from the federal government in 2009 with the threat of shutting down the entire economy, the one they crippled with their criminal financial speculation. Were they sorry for the disruption they engineered? Not in the least. They celebrate with bonuses just as they do after every successful project of plunder.

This is why the NFL will never let another community own a team in the way that Green Bay does. What is a billionaire without a population of middle class people who cannot understand their own interests, much less take actions to protect it?


Honestly I don't think Obama deserves any more money to "play" with, from any sources.

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Dave Zirin is the author of the book: "Welcome to the Terrordome: The Pain, Politics and Promise of Sports" (Haymarket). You can receive his column Edge of Sports, every week by going to dave@edgeofsports.com.
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Contact him at edgeofsports@gmail.com