Harris: Pampered Pro Sports Stars Should Get No Sympathy

by Jim Harris  on Wednesday, May. 25, 2011 3:10 pm  

This story is from the archives of ArkansasSports360.com.

What's been fun about watching Dirk Nowitzki during the Dallas Mavericks' run in the NBA Playoffs is that you see an amazing 7-foot athlete giving his all and, at least from this viewpoint, you never think about the fact he makes thousands of dollars a minute for his efforts. He may or may not be another of the spoiled and over-pampered pro athletes off the court, but on it we know he's earning whatever the game's better players should make.

I smile as my kid and his friends say they dream of being Dirk Nowitzki, or the resurgent 38-year-old Mavs guard Jason Kidd, and I remember back when I wanted to be John Havlicek. I was all about wanting to wear No. 17; just call me "Hondo" and let me lead my Boston Celtics to another NBA crown. I imagine John Havlicek and the rest of the Celtics of that era laugh at the amount of money an average NBA starter earns these days.

For that matter, it's great, finally, to see the overpaid triumvirate in Miami playing every second like it truly matters rather than going through the motions of regular-season game and failing to live up to the hype. The way Dwyane Wade, LeBron James and Chris Bosh are giving it every ounce of their ability now in the playoffs, one doesn't think about the way James stiffed his loyal fans in Cleveland for South Beach even if the Cavs were willing to give him every dollar in Ohio to keep him.

As long as these highly compensated athletes in the NBA or any other pro sport perform at their level best, it's hard to get too worked up about their ridiculous lifestyles and all the attention that comes their way. This is not one of those "pro athletes are paid too much" columns.

It's when these guys who have it as good as anyone possibly could have it begin to complain about their life being inconvenienced that it suddenly seems like an affront to the fans who support them with their hard-earned dollars.

Of course, it wasn't always this easy for the professional athletes, from the NFL to the NBA to the PGA Tour. TV and marketing and advertising changed all that, at least for the charismatic stars of the sports, but the trickle-down helped even the lowliest on the roster. Magic Johnson and Larry Bird and then Michael Jordan saved the NBA and made even bench-warmers millionaires, and Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson took golf soaring the past 14 years.

My son and I will be taking in a round of the Byron Nelson Golf Classic in Los Colinas, Texas, this weekend. The Nelson is named for one of the true gentlemen to ever play the game. Byron Nelson, who spent a year in the early 1930s at Texarkana Country Club as the golf pro, made a few thousand dollars from winning or finishing second in almost every PGA tournament in sight in 1945-46 and then retired to his ranch in Roanoke, Texas. He was a fixture at his tournament from the late 1960s, when it took his name, until his death in 2006, and he influenced the games of such greats as Tom Watson and Ken Venturi.

Many pros who play the game because they love it and appreciate its history, guys such as major winner Vijay Singh, compete in the Nelson every year.

Hunter Mahan, who came out of nearby McKinney, Texas, and is the 18th-ranked golfer in the world, can't be bothered to play in the Nelson this year. In seven appearances, he's finished no better than 42nd and blames the TPC at Las Colinas course for it. It doesn't fit his game, apparently. So he'll take the weekend off.

"It's a pain in the butt to play," a Dallas Morning News reporter quoted Mahan as saying last Friday when he pulled out of this week's tourney. We guess he was referring to the course itself, not the Nelson tournament in general, since it's being contested a half-hour drive from his home. OK, considering the Metroplex traffic we'll concede him a 90-minute drive to the course, and yes, Dallas traffic can be a pain in the butt too. Still.

The tournament purse is $6.5 million, and the winner will pocket $1.1 million. Mahan doesn't figure he'll be the one accepting the giant check and trophy, and he probably doesn't need the $30,000 (at least) that he would have picked up over the weekend for knocking the ball around; Ping pays him endorsement money to play its clubs and star in its TV and magazine advertising, so he's not going broke anytime soon, even if he doesn't make another cut this year.

Of course, he could play badly and miss this week's cut, so with that he should forget any of the fans who might have showed up to see him - it might run him few dollars on gas Thursday and Friday, plus having to play in the celebrity pro-am in midweek, a trifling that he could have otherwise saved for, gosh, what? What does it bother to show up even for three days basically in your home town for these guys?



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