The Warriors knew what they were getting into when they tried to sign Webber, the first overall pick of the 1993 draft. "We were last," says Warrior president Dan Finnane of the megadeal parade. "We saw Hardaway's and Bradley's contracts. The stage was set." Like the Magic, the Warriors had a measly slot available, $1.6 million. And Webber's salary could increase by the aforementioned 30%, or $480,000 annually. But since Webber won't turn 21 until March 1, 1994, the Warriors could stretch out the contract for 15 years and offer an eyepopper. Webber would take home about $8.3 million for the 2008-09 season. Over 15 years he was looking at a total of $74.4 million.
Yet Webber's agent, Bill Strickland, wanted more. He insisted on a one-year termination clause so that Webber could elect to become a restricted free agent at the end of this season, much as Chris Dudley can under his controversial contract with the Portland Trail Blazers (page 100). Webber could then either seek bigger bucks or try to increase the present value of his contract by asking for a greater chunk of his dollars to be paid during this decade. Of course, if Webber's a bust this season, he'll keep his mouth shut and just go raking in his $74.4 million. Says Finnane, "If that contract is a worst-case scenario, I'll take it." Critics of Webber's deal say it puts too much pressure on him to produce as a rookie.
"It's a huge contract," says Finnane, "but if you want to be competitive in this league, that's the price you have to pay."
So where will NBA contracts go from here? Higher and higher, without a doubt. Last month New Jersey Net forward Derrick Coleman, a no-time All-Star, turned down a contract extension worth $69 million over eight years. Soon we'll see the first $100 million man, especially if the new collective bargaining agreement loosens the cap. Maybe Shaq will land the first nine-figure contract, or perhaps it will be a college star such as California's Jason Kidd or Purdue's Glenn Robinson or even North Carolina frosh Jerry Stackhouse.
But is it right that basketball players become richer than Croesus? No reason at all why they shouldn't. They work hard, and millions of people pay to see them play. Sure, it's terrible that a high school teacher makes $25,000 a year, but that's not Webber's fault. Just look at what other first-tier entertainers earn. Oprah Winfrey takes home more than $50 million a year, Garth Brooks gets more than $20 million. Hell, Neil Diamond still pulls in more than $10 million. Neil Diamond! Viewing the NBA's megasalaries in this context, you could argue that at $7 million per, Larry Johnson is a steal.