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The Perils of Overwhelming Salary Fatigue

Back in the 1970's, there was this thing called "primal scream therapy." The whole point was that you let out your anger by screaming. It was the basis of John Lennon's solo career and probably inspired that famous scene in Network, which has been taken far more seriously than it was meant to be. So you might want to view the following column in that same light. ↵
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↵Money has always been a part of sports, ever since Zeus paid Hercules to slay the magical goat in the first Olympics. Salaries have dictated the way athletes are seen, and the expansion of leagues and public interest has been a function of various revenue streams. Salary caps made fandom more complicated, but I think we all understand that they ultimately lead to a superior product. Some people love this stuff; most see it as a necessary evil, a trade-off for the actual play being better. ↵
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↵But there's such a thing as too much salary talk. When that happens, we start to lose touch with what draws us to sports in the first place. ↵
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↵Granted, this is the NBA off-season, where deals live or die according to cap figures and arcane exceptions. However, the complexities of teams' payrolls shouldn't be what we're rooting for or against. Nor—in a perfect world—would they demand as much involvement on our part as making informed judgments about what point guard rules the league. You think the LeBron and Wade mini-max storylines are about a new relationship between superstars and franchises? Maybe it could've been, but it also hinged on all sorts of CBA loopholes that mere mortals may never fully grasp. ↵
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↵This isn't just about being pro- or anti-numbers. Certainly, not all of us are masters of advanced statistics, but we can be convinced that learning about them enhances our appreciation of the game. Salaries, on the other hand, are a distraction and hindrance that give numbers a bad name and probably induce some sort of math fatigue. What have we heard more about, teams trying to get under the cap and how far they might be by 2010, or the statistically unprecedented season LeBron enjoyed? The former, because superficially it's about something more accessible: getting new players. ↵
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↵Once you start down that road, though, it's not long before you find yourself in a labyrinth that even Xerxes could not escape from. ↵
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↵Matters of the cap have become so intricate, so involved and so impenetrable that they've become a story in themselves. I'd almost rather someone wake me up when the deals are done, instead of expect me to understand exactly why an infinite number of transactions could come true. I understand this is part of 21st century basketball, and that one can't selectively ignore aspects of the game. But there's also a subtle change under way in how basketball (or any sport) is viewed, covered and articulated to the public. When such speculation becomes an academic discipline unto itself, a part of the sport (and fandom) shrivels up and dies. All too often, the sportstalk hosts and callers try to skirt the issue by pleading relative ignorance: "I'm no expert on the cap, but what about. . . " ↵
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↵As an "NBA expert" and ardent fan, this state of things makes me both sad and enraged. I resent all the time it takes me to understand a deal like Marion-to-Dallas; I'm annoyed that the airwaves are populated with folks who simply don't care that they don't know, or won't take the time to do the necessary research. I also think casual fans are left with two options: blather along as if things weren't an impenetrable mess, or refrain from all fantasy and dream scenario. These are important parts not only of covering a sport, but enjoying it. That they've ended up sapping energy that could be better used elsewhere is enough to make me want to crusade for a CBA anyone can make sense of. ↵
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↵Because I know I'm not the only one who, in an age of economic collapse and malaise, would prefer that money not loom so large in what's supposed to be an escapist pursuit. Or at least believe that in sports, things are pure, and finance doesn't resemble those toxic mortgage assets that brought down our economy without any of us understanding them.
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↵For more NBA coverage, visit SportingNews.com's new NBA blog, The Baseline.
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This post originally appeared on the Sporting Blog. For more, see The Sporting Blog Archives.