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It's Great To Be Average
RICHARD HOFFER
July 31, 2006
FAMOUS? NOT SO MUCH. THEY MAY NEVER MAKE AN ALL-STAR TEAM OR WIN A MAJOR, BUT BY MAKING IT TO THE BIG TIME AND STAYING THERE, TODAY'S JOURNEYMAN JOCKS ARE DOING JUST FINE, THANKS. THESE EIGHT ATHLETES SIT RIGHT SMACK IN THE MIDDLE OF THE SALARY SCALE FOR THEIR RESPECTIVE SPORTS. FOR THEM ...
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July 31, 2006

It's Great To Be Average

FAMOUS? NOT SO MUCH. THEY MAY NEVER MAKE AN ALL-STAR TEAM OR WIN A MAJOR, BUT BY MAKING IT TO THE BIG TIME AND STAYING THERE, TODAY'S JOURNEYMAN JOCKS ARE DOING JUST FINE, THANKS. THESE EIGHT ATHLETES SIT RIGHT SMACK IN THE MIDDLE OF THE SALARY SCALE FOR THEIR RESPECTIVE SPORTS. FOR THEM ...

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Nowhere does 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 it."

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."

Dechy, who 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]."

When Goldstein 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 | NFL

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