Monday, July 5, 2010

Monday's Musings on Sports - The Off Court Courtship of the NBA

As regular readers of this blog are aware, the Monday post was usually devoted to sports with highlights and analysis of the Max Kellerman show which formerly aired on 1050 ESPN Radio. Although Max resigned from 1050 more than a year ago, I have tried to continue the tradition of linking sports to Torah which I believe was an undercurrent of the Max Kellerman show.

July 1st marked the beginning of the most highly anticipated free agency period in NBA history. For more than a year and a half, NBA teams have been paring salary and dumping players for little more than a bag of balls, in an attempt to get far enough under the salary cap so that they can bid on the likes of LeBron James, Dwayne Wade, Amare Stoudamire, Joe Johnson and other basketball stars.

To the casual fan, it might appear as if the team that has the most salary cap space would be able to sign the best player. However in the NBA, the rule is that a player who signs with a new team can get a "max salary" offer which is the same as any other "max" salary offer which can be offered by nearly every other team. For the year 2010-2011 the max salary is an ungodly $20 million per year, which can be offered by every team in the NBA, except the team which stands to lose the player. The "home team" so to speak, can exceed this figure to sign their own player.

Already there have been indications that a few players (Joe Johnson the most prominent of them all) will sign with their prior team and take advantage of the home team bonus cap money.

However, for the player who does not want to sign with his old team, there are many offers which are nearly identical in terms of $$$. For example, LeBron James can sign with any potential suitor (other than the Cleveland Cavaliers) for the same dollar figure. So what differentiates the offers? According to the news reports, there are two main differences - whether the potential new team can win soon and who is making his way out to Cleveland to meet with King James and his entourage.

As far as the first category, I can fully understand why it should matter to the player whether the team he is going to is ready to make a championship run. But the second category, where the player analyzes whether the team has sent its best people to recruit him, I completely cannot understand. Why should it matter if the team's owner comes down to the first meeting? Do the dollar figures change? And who cares whether the team's most prominent former players have come along on the recruiting trip? Will they come out of retirement to play too?

The whole scenario reminds me of Bilaam's complete failure to hear Hashem's message to him when Bilaam was told not to go with Balak's men. In Bamidbar 22:13 Bilaam tells Balak's henchmen that they should go to their land because Hashem does not want Bilaam to go with them.

Rabbi Frand asked the following question about this verse - why did Bilaam only tell half of his prophecy from Hashem to Balak's men? Why did he not tell them that Hashem also told him not to curse the Jews? Rabbi Frand quoted R' Chayim Shmulevitz who explained that Bilaam did not intentionally omit the second half of the command. Rather, Bilaam (like most people) only heard what he wanted to hear. When Hashem told Bilaam not to go with them, Bilaam assumed that meant that he was not to accompany them because they were low level help and he should have been escorted by the king himself. In so doing, Bilaam conveniently ignored the rest of the command (which is seen later in the parsha when he does attempt to go and curse the Jews).

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