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Making dollars and sense

Fortunate 50 list makes you scratch your head

Posted: Thursday June 30, 2005 4:06PM; Updated: Friday July 1, 2005 3:50PM
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Eight in the Box

LeBron James
Don't expect LeBron James to be out the top five next year.
Mitchell Layton/Getty Images

1. In its current issue, Sports Illustrated (Hey, I know them!) released its second annual ranking of the highest-paid U.S. athletes. The story is titled "The Fortunate 50." In salary alone, nine of those 50 earn less than $10 million per year (pause for a moment of compassion), and what's interesting about that is that those nine are the biggest names in their respective sports:

No. 1: Tiger Woods ($6.4 million salary/$80 mil in endorsements)
No. 2:  Andre Agassi ($1.2 mil/$44.5 mil)
No. 8: LeBron James ($4.3 mil/$24 mil)
No. 9: Phil Mickelson ($6.4 mil/$21 mil)
No. 10: Dale Earnhardt Jr. ($7.2 mil/$20 mil)
No. 17: Serena Williams ($2.3 mil/$20 mil)
No. 19: Jeff Gordon ($6.4 mil/$15 mil)
No. 28: Lance Armstrong ($497,500/$17.5 mil)
No. 34: Brett Favre ($9.5 mil/$7 mil)

So, kids, what have we learned? The two best American golfers, two best American NASCAR drivers (sorry, Tony Stewart), the best American male and female tennis players, and the greatest cyclist in history all earn less in salary per year than Damon Stoudamire ($14.9 million).

What else? It pays to play a team sport. LeBron will soon be earning in the $20 million per annum range, and as for Favre, he's a good ol' boy who prefers location (Green Bay) to remuneration.

Two more observations: 1) Six of the athletes -- or 12 percent -- on that list play for the New York Yankees, who after tonight's game at Baltimore could be 39-39. The Fortunate .500 Club? 2) Whoever wins this year's main event at the World Series of Poker, which begins next Thursday, will pocket $10 million. And anyone with $10,000 could enter (until the field closed at 6,600 entrants). That instantly would place them ahead of those aforementioned athletes in salary. Helps to explain the poker phenomenon, huh?

2. If you are not entered in the WSOP main event (the game is No-Limit Texas Hold 'Em), but you want a piece of the action, PinnacleSports.com has handicapped 36 favorites in the field. Their frontrunner is young gun Daniel Negreanu (whom I watched go out within the first two hours of the $1,500 No-Limit Texas Hold 'Em event earlier this month) at 257/1, followed by another youthful hotshot, Phil Ivey, at 279/1.

Other notables:
Phil Hellmuth: 306/1
Chris "Jesus" Ferguson: 388/1
Doyle Brunson: 532/1
Greg Raymer ('04 Champ): 718/1
Annie Duke (lone woman of the 36): 723/1
Chris Moneymaker ('03 Champ): 874/1

Now, I'm no savvy bettor, but if you were to place $1 on each of the 36 favorites, the worst -- WORST -- you could do should any of them win is win seven times your money back. What does that tell you? Poker is about more than just skill. Basically, PinnacleSports.com is betting that someone other than those 36 players is going to win. Or is there something I'm not getting here?

3. Song I'm digging: Shimmy Low by rust-belt rockers The Clarks, a Pittsburgh-based bar band that's been around since 1988. My pal Billy Hubbell introduced me to them. How does a band this solid go unnoticed nationally for this long? I mean, I watch the VH1 and the MTV and there's a lot of crap being passed as music on those channels. Then you have a tune like this flying under the radar? Excuse me now, I must go brandish a rake and chase the pesky kids out of my yard.

4. Did you notice, while watching the NBA Draft on ESPN, that Jay Bilas (Duke) and Greg Anthony (UNLV) had as many players from their alma maters drafted in the first round as did Screamin' A. Smith (Winston-Salem State)? Which is to say, zero. Only Mike Tirico (Syracuse, whose Hakim Warrick went at No. 19) had his school represented.

If I'm the NBA and ESPN, I'm staging a Rookie All-Star Game next week with Picks 1-10 on one side and Picks 11-20 on the other. Probable starters:

1-10: Ike Diogu (F), Marvin Williams (F), Andrew Bogut (C), Chris Paul (G) and Deron Williams (G).

11-20: Danny Granger (F), Joey Graham (F), Sean May (C), Rashad McCants (G) and Julius Hodge (G).

I like 11-20's chances, especially when you consider they've got Warrick and Gerald Green coming off the bench. By the way, did you see the portion of ESPN's Chris Paul diary where he says that his pal McCants asked him to buy socks in New York City? Who knew that Manhattan was the Sock Capital of the World?

5. Okay, so here's another game. You're building a five-man pitching rotation based on Hollywood actors. Sort of a Billy Beane-meets-Orson Bean deal. You're basing your picks more on their screen personas than their actual baseball prowess. Right away, I'm thinking, you have to go with leading-man types. Pitchers figuratively and literally are elevated on their stage. Just like Tom Cruise ... who, by the way, does not make my starting rotation. Here it is:

John Wayne: The Duke is a pure fireballer. Brings the heat. Throws inside. He's Roger Clemens in a 10-gallon cap.

Steve McQueen: Nobody is cooler, even if his physical presence fails to intimidate. A David Cone-type.

Clint Eastwood: Tall, rangy, loner who thinks you just killed his entire family. You wanna dig in against him? "I know what you're thinking, punk. He just threw three straight split-fingered fastballs at the knees. Does he have any left? Well, to tell you the truth in all the excitement, I kind of lost track myself..."

Sydney Poitier: Simmering heat and intelligent as well. Just like his contemporary, Bob Gibson.

Groucho Marx: Crazy hair, bizarre sense of humor, but he always brings the goods. He's Pedro Martinez.

Reliever? Harvey Keitel: Mr. Wolf was the ultimate closer.

And, yes, Kevin Costner did pitch a perfect game in a movie, but we all know he's more credible as a catcher.

6. Watching Andy Borowitz share a couch with two other Gen-Xers on CNN This Morning's 90-Second Pop segment is like watching Fred Armisen share a scene with Horatio Sanz and Seth Meyers on SNL. You just want to tell the other two to stay out of his way.

7. At the risk of inciting the second-most populous country in the world, let me ask this question: How come India, which has a population so great that I'm not even sure I can pronounce the number (1,080,264,388, according to the U.S. Census Bureau), a population three times that of the U.S., a population second only to China's, has nobody currently playing in the NBA, NFL or MLB? At least as far as I am aware.

Sure, India produces fantastic cricket players and even a soccer player or two (Bend it Like Beckham, right?). But with all the bluster about how the NBA and MLB have become infused with international talent (and they have), no one ever mentions Indians. Heck, we even have a pro team named after them. My friend Tom Cavanagh envisions an Indian cricketer breaking the Bombay barrier and initially havng great success in Major League Baseball. That is, until scouts realize he's strictly a lowball hitter -- that and the fact he always runs directly to second base on a hit.

And, hey, India is chock-full of talent. It is second all-time in the most Miss Worlds and Miss Universes winners combined, with seven. Only Venezuela, with nine World and Universe pageant winners, has produced more.

8. Note to self: Make vacation plans for Venezuela.

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