average pay better than the NBA. But with a maximum workforce of a mere 450,
nowhere is average so extraordinary. Making a team, much less having a career,
is the equivalent of hitting the lottery--which is what Antonio Daniels thought
he did in 1997, when he was selected No. 4 out of Bowling Green by the
Vancouver Grizzlies. But instead of achieving the stardom augured by such a
lofty pick, the 6'4" guard has been a versatile role player on five teams.
"I don't do a lot of things great," says Daniels, "but I do a lot
of things well." Fortunately in his second season he joined the eventual
NBA champion San Antonio Spurs. "Playing with Avery [ Johnson] and Tim
[Duncan] helped me learn what it takes to play in this league," says
Daniels. "After that I knew I was here to stay." He's happy to pass on
the primary lesson imparted by those Spurs stalwarts. "This game is 20
percent physical, 20 percent mental and 60 percent about health," says
Daniels, who has been largely injury-free. "You can be the most talented
guy in the league, but if you can't stay on the court, you're not going to make
But if you can
stay on the court, there's a decent chance you'll be richly rewarded. Before
last season Daniels signed a five-year, $30 million contract with the
Washington Wizards; his salary for 2005--06 was $5 million, the league average.
That kind of money affords Daniels the one vice he'll own up to: cars. (He has
seven, including a Ferrari 360.) Wealth has also brought Daniels one large
headache--he's constantly being hit up by friends for loans. His response to
prospective mendicants: "Don't call it borrowing when you have no intention
of paying it back."
these average pro
athletes--the No. 7 hitter in the lineup, the backup guard, the guy or gal who
fades from early view at Wimbledon--seem best able to enjoy the play, to savor
the game, to appreciate the experience. As WTA player Nathalie Dechy, No. 40 on
the WTA money list, puts it, "I think we have a really special life; we do
a special thing compared to normal people."
graduated from high school in France at 16 in 1995 and then rapidly graduated
to the tour's top 100, adds, "I really love the emotion we have and the ups
and downs we have." Having reached a Grand Slam semifinal at the 2005
Australian Open and suffered a first-round exit in Melbourne this year, she's
had both. Perhaps being average has kept her grounded. "I was lucky enough
to play a women's sport where you can earn money," Dechy says, "but
it's never been [that important]."
talks about his career, he is unable to list a rivalry with Roger Federer, but
he can remember each of the countries he has visited, every player he has
faced. He says, "One of my greatest moments ever was when I went to the
Czech Republic with my buddy. It was the first time his father could show his
son his home, post-Communism. He was so proud. It was an awesome
experience." Better than taking that set from Sampras? Right up there.
The lesson? It
could be this: Being average in pro sports is harder than it looks, and it pays
better than you'd think. It also provides some very special dividends. Not for
everybody, of course. But on average.
AVERAGE JOE |