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Just trying to make an indecent wage

Sports Illustrated's Rick Reilly on 'struggling' NBA stars

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Posted: Tuesday November 10, 1998 10:40 AM


In Madison, Tenn., where 1,200 Peterbilt truck workers have been walking the picket lines for six months, they love the NBA labor dispute. It gives them something to finally laugh about.

They hear New York Knicks center Patrick Ewing walk up to the microphones and say, with a straight face, "We're fighting for our livelihood. We can't survive if we sign this contract," and it breaks them up. Last season Ewing made about $100,000 per basket. When he still had a job, the average Peterbilt guy didn't make that much in two years.

They see where Boston Celtics guard Kenny Anderson whines that if things get any worse, he may have to sell one of his eight cars, and it tickles the workers' ribs. As the Peterbilt strike turned lockout continues, ribs are something the picketers are seeing a lot more of lately.

Every NBA gazillionaire with the gall to feel one gram sorry for himself needs to cart himself and his jewelry to Madison. According to union members, many of the workers have been evicted from their apartments or have lost their homes. People are living in relatives' basements, moving in with their kids, sleeping in shelters. "We've got families with five and six kids that we have to send down to United Way for meals," says Donna Dotts, a welder, "so I guess it's kind of hard to see how these basketball players need more."

Not that the players and the workers don't have a lot in common. NBA players want the minimum salary for veterans raised to around $1 million, superstars to be able to re-sign for upwards of $15 million without their teams' having to pay a luxury tax, and they want 60% of the league's gross revenues. The Peterbilt workers have outrageous demands, too. They're asking for a cost-of-living allowance, the company to kick in on some health insurance for pensioners and the chance to retire at a livable wage before 65.

Anderson let The New York Times get a look at his money woes last week. He was supposed to make $5.8 million this season, which works out to about a measly $3 million after taxes. But, hey, he's got expenses, don't forget, including $75,000 a year just to insure his fleet of Porsches, Range Rovers and Mercedes, and $150,000 yearly rent on his Beverly Hills crib (pool, tennis and basketball courts, four-car garage). Plus he helps support four children he has had by three women, including his wife, and he's got to have his $120,000 "hangin' around money," as he calls it. That leaves him with only $2 million a year to invest. "I have to start getting tight," Anderson said.

You'll forgive Larry Haynes if he doesn't throw Anderson a telethon. Haynes is a truck-cab assembler who's getting $405 a week in strike insurance and unemployment. Oh, he doesn't have Anderson's car-insurance problems, mostly because he has pawned two vehicles to pay his $500-a-month rent. He has a wife and two small kids, and he has already gone through his savings. Not that he doesn't have "hangin' around money." He allows $40 every two months so the family can have a big night out. "Like, we might go eat at Applebee's," he says.
Ewing earned about $100,000 per basket last season AP 

C'mon, Larry, you have to start getting tight.

"I hear the NBA players talking about struggling and barely surviving," Haynes says. "Man, they don't know what real life is."

I think for most of us, the most difficult part of the NBA lockout is deciding which side we'd most like to see crushed by a comet. It's like a death match between Michael Bolton and Julio Iglesias. It'd be wonderful if, somehow, both sides could lose.

Until it's over, the owners and players need to shut up. They need to come out of their meetings, head for the microphones, smile hugely and say, "It's going pretty well. And even if it isn't, who cares? We're all richer than Oprah!" They need to stop bragging about how "united" they are. Yeah, it's easy to be united while on your cell phones in four-button Italian suits around the baccarat tables at Bellagio.

Try being united every morning down at the little union hall in Madison, where men try to hold their heads high without three bucks in their wallets and women try to hang on to hope wearing the same dress for two weeks straight.

There are two major labor disputes in America right now. One of them is a joke.  

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