(DISCLAIMER: THIS OPINION PIECE AND ITS CONTENTS ARE FROM THE MIND OF ADIO BALE’ ROYSTER. THE THOUGHTS IN THIS PIECE DO NOT REFLECT THOSE OF THE ENTIRETY OF THE STAFF AT LIBERTY BALLERS, SB NATION, OR THE PARENT COMPANY – VOX MEDIA.)
Growing up, one of my favorite stories was Robin Hood – a tale about an “outlaw” in the English countryside that famously robbed from the rich to give to the poor. There have been many versions of that story made in media. The version you prefer is irrelevant. (For the record, the animated Disney Robin Hood will always be my favorite, followed by “Prince of Thieves”.)
As I reflect on that story living in the current climate with the coronavirus pandemic flooding the planet, this story becomes more and more relevant as it pertains to the rich. For the purposes of this piece, I’m speaking more to owners of sports teams.
In the days leading up to the cancellation of the NBA season, there was a lot of uncertainty. Would the season resume? How would the season resume? What would happen to the many workers who rely on (in this case) basketball games as a source of revenue — either primary or secondary?
Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban spoke out early to announce that he would be formulating a program to make sure those hourly workers would be taken care of in the wake of the season being put on hold. At the time, a friend of mine joked that “When we rise up and begin to guillotine the rich, Cuban gets a fresh one.”
(Cuban has done a lot to get in my friend’s good graces, by the way. The last time I talked to him about it, he hinted that he would have a drink with him during his last meal.)
I don’t share such violent means of uprising, but I do believe in a “Robin Hood” approach when it comes to the kind of situation that we’re in right now as a country, as a nation, and as a society. In terms of simple humanity, it should be the nature to help the greater good in the face of tragedy.
Some NBA owners have already stepped up.
Micky Arison, the owner of the Miami Heat, is providing relief to team and part-time arena employees, as well as $1 million to a fund to help employees and other community members.
Los Angeles Clippers owner Steve Ballmer has donated $1 million to community organizations in Los Angeles, another $3 million to the Seattle Foundation’s COVID-19 fund, $1 million to “All In Seattle” (benefiting local non-profits), as well as another $500,000 to United Way for Southeast Michigan.
Cuban has said that he will continue to pay employees as if the season hadn’t been cancelled. He and Mavericks players Luka Doncic and Dwight Powell have also contributed funds.
All of this made it really difficult to hear the news that Josh Harris and David Blitzer had made a plan to CUT the salaries of employees making over $50,000 by 20 percent. The three-month-long plan also included a reduction of the work week from five days to four. Those under contract would have to “volunteer” to take this reduction, but “at-will” employees would get those cuts.
This did not go over well AT ALL in the court of public opinion, and honestly, it should not have even gotten to that point.
With everything going on in the world right now, the last thing anyone wants to worry about is when or where their next paycheck is coming from, no matter how much money you make (a part-time employee or a salaried worker making over $50k). That’s how you make a bad situation worse, and it’s not exactly how you ingratiate yourself to the city and its fan base.
Michael Rubin, a 5 percent owner in the Sixers, was reportedly outraged over the salary cuts. To that, I say, “Put your money where your mouth is, Mikey.” Your net worth is $2.9 billion. If you really feel that way, you can spare it.
Josh Harris — who has a net worth of $3.9 billion — is already in a bit of hot water in the city of Philadelphia. He’s dangerously creeping to a point where Philadelphians dislike him as much as New Yorkers dislike James Dolan, owner of the New York Knicks.
You do not want to be put on a similar trajectory as James Dolan. That’s a headache you DO NOT want, especially since I’m pretty sure Philadelphians can be and will be nastier than New Yorkers when it comes to this sort of thing.
As the day progressed and people in the media got more and more information, it was clear that Harris & Co. had already drawn the ire of everyone on social media. What made matters worse for the owner is that Joel Embiid decided to donate $500k to aid the employees who would be affected by this absolutely despicable ownership decision.
76ers star Joel Embiid says he is donating $500,000 to coronavirus relief and helping team workers who are temporarily reducing their salary during pandemic.— Shams Charania (@ShamsCharania) March 24, 2020
That was the final straw in the public shaming of Harris & Co., something almost as embarrassing for them as “Burner-Gate” was for Bryan Colangelo. In a way, it was probably worse.
Both embarrassments led to sweeping change. Colangelo left as general manager, and in this scenario, Harris & Co. reversed their decision on the cuts. Well done, everyone. Bullying works. (If it worked with the “Sonic the Hedgehog” movie, it can work for anything.)
It also didn’t hurt that one of the Sixers’ marquee stars made ownership look like total and complete clowns.
Here’s where I get nasty.
How did we even get to that point?
I get the restaurateurs. Everything is shut down, so you don’t have patrons coming in. No patrons means no money, so layoffs in that sector are inevitable.
What I don’t get are the billionaire sports owners like Harris and his ilk (aside from Cuban, Arison, Ballmer, and any others in other sports I didn’t mention). Is it wrong to assume that you can spare a couple hundred thousand since you’re a team owner? Harris is worth almost $4 billion … BILLION … with a “B”.
Do you want to garner incredible goodwill by doing a Mark Cuban and paying your workers in the face of a pandemic not seen since the Spanish Flu of 1918 or do you want to look like a complete s***-heel, much like the Sheriff of Nottingham?
Am I being too hard on these guys? Maybe, but this is what I believe. In unfortunate times, drastic measures should be made. One measure that shouldn’t even be a thought is cutting salaries when no one really knows when things will ever get back to some sense of normalcy.
I’m not saying calling for a full uprising to take place complete with pitchforks and torches, but since Harris & Co. chose the latter, they should have to wear this one on the chin for as long as they own the team. Sixers fans and Philadelphians in general should NEVER let Harris forget this … EVER!
Will the group sell the team? I doubt it. They let “Burner-Gate” get as far as it went before they made a decision, so it’s possible they have no shame. That’s why it’s up to us, Jane and John Q. Public, to call out their BS when they’re engaging in BS tactics and making BS decisions.