During the 1984-85 NBA season, Christopher Aaron Engler was the highest-paid temp in the land. Over one dizzying span, from Dec. 22 to April 11, Engler found work with the New Jersey Nets, the Chicago Bulls, the Los Angeles Clippers and the Milwaukee Bucks.
To say that Engler "played" for those NBA teams would be to overstate the case. For the season, he logged only 82 minutes in 11 games. He scored 21 points and grabbed 30 rebounds. Before the home fans could really get a fix on the 6'11" bearded stranger sitting at the end of the bench, he was usually long gone. But on the whole, Chris Engler had no complaints.
"This is the best way I've found to help pay for my education," said Engler, at that time a University of Wyoming grad who wanted to go to law school but is still playing for a semi professional team in France. "Where else am I going to find a job that pays this well?"
Only in the NBA, Chris. Yes, through the wonder of something called the 10-day contract, marginal players like Engler can almost make a career out of hopscotching from one team to another, staying only long enough to fill a gap caused by an injury to a roster player.
Nobody in the league office or at the NBA Players Association is quite sure who deserves credit for coming up with the idea of the 10-day contract, which came into being in 1976. But both sides see it as a management-labor compromise, and it seems likely to stay. NBA teams can get replacement players quickly and without having to sign them to season-long contracts. And the 10-day players, most of whom come from the Continental Basketball Association, get a big-time opportunity and a big-time paycheck, even if it's only for a little while.
For their services, which in many cases consist of working hard in practice and not falling asleep during games, 10-day players are paid the NBA's minimum salary on a prorated basis. That means that today's temps earn about $6,433 during one 10-day cycle, based on the NBA minimum of $110,000 for a 171-day season. That's not bad. And there's travel, too.
Ten-dayers can sign on for a second 10-day stint when the first one concludes, after which the team must either cut the player or sign him for the rest of the season. Sometimes a 10-dayer hangs on, sometimes he doesn't. Last season, for example, 42 initial 10-day contracts were signed (by a total of 36 players, some of whom signed with more than one team), and 26 were extended to a second 10-day cycle. Fifteen of the 36 players who signed 10-days wound up getting extensions for the remainder of the season.
There is, of course, a certain amount of pride that 10-day players have to swallow, resting, as they do, at the bottom of the NBA food chain. Here's Utah Jazz coach Jerry Sloan struggling to assess his 10-day-player situation from last season:
"Well, let's see. We had that kid Eric, uh, Eric, oh, what the heck's his last name? Came from the Clippers. Think he went back there after we let him go. Eric, uh...." He meant Eric White, of Pepperdine.
"Then we had another kid in mind. Even came to Utah. Guard, from Loyola Marymount. Don't think he ever played for us, though. Had an injury. Just can't come up with his name. Drafted by Seattle originally. Hmmm...." He was referring to Corey Gaines, who failed his physical and never signed a contract.