The Magical Mystery Man

The history of sport is littered with tales of special men who came along and took their chosen sport to new heights. Leaders of men who at their time were revolutionaries who set new benchmarks for excellence and standards of competition. Great players are often remembered as the superheroes the next generation often strive to emulate, but what of the men on the touchline? These men who build the teams and are responsible for creating the delicate ecosystem of a sports team that is often the difference between success and failure. The men who give great players the platform to shine and the best opportunities to be who they are.

Indeed great coaches are remembered and tributes are often paid, but the kids who grow up wanting to be the next Bill Belichick, Phil Jackson or Sir Alex Ferguson are few and far between. This next generation of football obsessed teens are a different breed. Raised in a new media age of 24hr sports news networks and the internet, where the personalities off the pitch, need to match the action on it.

In this age, one man represents this shift better than most and that man is Jose Mourinho.

His track record is unquestionable, the loyalty from his players is immense and the love from his club supporters is only matched by the antipathy from rival supporters. Love him or hate him you can’t do anything but respect him. The self proclaimed “Special One” divided opinion (maybe that’s the key to his success…) To some including himself he is the second coming of Christ and a genius, to others he is the personification of everything that is wrong with football.

 

 

How did a man who is known in the Nou Camp as “the translator” rise to be the No.1 coach in world football?
Here are our top observations…

 

Self Confidence (Believe in yourself)

The first stage of achievement is belief. Before anybody else believes in you, you have to believe in yourself. Jose Mourinho embodies this concept. He carries himself like a winner. Communicates with conviction and just exudes confidence which is probably his strongest character trait and this can’t fail to rub off on his players.

Intelligence & Strategy (Stay in your lane)

When it comes to game intelligence, there are very few, if any, who are better than Jose Mourinho. Success has followed him everywhere he’s been and that can’t be a coincidence. This man knows how to win. Period. Based on a football ideology inspired by Arrigo Sacchi, Mourinho’s teams have always been defensively minded, hard working, devastating on the counter attack, and have never been a neutral’s choice to watch. He has his vision and he buys and keeps players who fit and commit to it. He has never tried to play pretty football unnecessarily and his teams will only be remembered for one reason. THEY WON A LOT OF TROPHIES. To Jose…that’s the whole point.

Psychology (Know your opponent)

In all sports the game is often won and lost long before it’s actually played. Every competitor searches for that edge, any advantage they can to get ahead. Jose Mourinho has honed this skill better than most so much so that even the Dark Lord of the Sith himself Sir Alex Ferguson couldn’t put a dent in his armour. An absolute master at mental manipulation whether it be his own player, an opposition manager, or referees, Jose always seems to know what to say, when to say it and to whom.

 

Leadership (Write your own story)

 

“Outstanding leaders go out of their way to boost the self-esteem of their personnel. If people believe in themselves, it’s amazing what they can accomplish.” – Sam Walton

 

For any organisation to be successful there needs to be s common goal, a vision for every person to rally around. That vision starts with the man at the top and it’s his responsibility to make sure everyone is pulling in the right direction. This has been a common theme of Mourinho’s career, regardless of the country or the team. At each of his clubs he has inspired seasoned professionals with huge egos to buy into his vision and do things they otherwise would never do or indeed believe themselves capable of doing.

Samuel Eto’o was a brilliant forward who had a reputation for being a disruptive force in the dressing room, however at Inter Milan the power of Jose convinced him to work for the team and play out of position. Inter won the treble that year, along the way beating a Barcelona team considered the greatest club side in history.

On the flip side of that, players who don’t fit the vision or don’t adapt, e.g. Juan Mata and David Luiz, are moved on to other teams…quickly.

He won’t be remembered as the most beloved. His teams won’t be remembered as the greatest of their generation, but Jose Mourinho WILL be remembered as one of the greatest and most successful managers of his and any generation.

Whether it be life or business, from now on I’ll be asking myself WWJD…What Would Jose Do?

Keep Calm & Dominate Life

If I asked you to name a billion dollar man in football, you’d be forgiven for instantly jumping to thoughts of Roman Abramovich; a man who turned up in the Premier League and to paraphrase David Dein “…parked his tank on our lawn and fired £50 notes at us”.
At a stretch you might think of the odd footballer, but then you’d realise pretty quickly that Beckham, Messi and CR7 aren’t there yet. What is less likely is that you would think of an agent. In years gone by the agent has been the sports equivalent of the invisible hand; unquoted directly in the media, controlling affairs from behind the scenes, and collecting their hefty paycheques far away from the gaze of the general public.
Modern day business dynamics have changed a lot, long gone are the days when the top footballers were just that, footballers, and you couldn’t pick their agent out of a lineup.

Today when it comes to the poker game that is a football transfer, it seems one man holds more aces than most, his name is Jorge Mendes.

The Portuguese “super agent” has negotiated transfer deals worth more than £1bn over the course of his 18 year career; with a typical commission of 10% of the transfer fee so you don’t need me to do that maths for you. He was instrumental in taking Falcao and Angel Di Maria to Manchester United, and this summer will be no different. His Gestifute agency will be at the centre of the biggest deals, involving the biggest and most high profile clubs and players. But make no mistake, he is not alone.

Football is now big business and will only get bigger, and what’s becoming clearer by the day is, in the new football jungle, agents may be the apex predators. After the  huge shop window that is the European Championships, this summer promises to be a classic where many elite level players move across Europe.

Multiple agencies, operating across multiple territories negotiating over half a BILLION POUNDS in potential transfer fees, all in service of the one thing that makes this world go around…the almighty dollar!

Recent research by the European Club’s Association (ECA) concluded that on average 14.6% of all money paid in transfers goes to agents.

“Clearly there’s a lot of money going to agents and we as clubs are part of the problem but there are some unusual pressures in the system particularly when you are dealing across jurisdictions that means agents have a significant degree of leverage”

The lack of any significant oversight means that conflicts of interest are common place. Agents can work for both parties in a transaction without crossing legal boundaries. Murkier still are the rules surrounding 3rd party ownership. This article by The Guardian is extremely well written and does an excellent job in explaining a lot of the problems with this issue.

3rd Party Ownership

If you had dreams of your child growing up to be the next big footballer, and you’ve realised that’s a pipe dream then all is not lost…

“A lawyer with his briefcase can steal more than a hundred men with guns” – Vito Corleone.

There you have it, life lessons from Don Corleone himself. So if you need to dominate life, then keep calm, and send your child to law school. Their careers will be longer and probably more lucrative

Golden Beckonomics

LONDON, MANCHESTER, MADRID, LA, PARIS. & MILAN

6 destinations, 6 degrees of separation, each one a chapter in one of the greatest stories you’ll hear in yours or any lifetime. You could make a credible case for half of the above list being the fashion capital of the world. Each and every one of those cities is home to iconic sports enterprises that are famous the world over; and each of these cities conjures up images of places and events that have helped shaped a generation. All of these are ingredients in a unique story about a man whose influence transcends Sports, Fashion and Popular Culture. A man who stands alone as the iconic football figure of his generation, and it all started with one kick…

 

 

I don’t think it’s too much of an overstatement to say that football as we know it changed forever after THAT kick.

That moment in South East London was the true birth of the celebrity footballer. George Best proved in the sixties that the world had a special fascination with sportsmen and footballers in particular. David Beckham came along at exactly the right time, and took that notion to a whole another level. The global expansion of the Premier League coupled with the explosion of the Internet, meant that Beckham was on TV in billions of households every single week. Sportsmen and pop stars go together like

“Nike Airs and crisp tees, S.Dots with polo fleeces, purple label shit with the logo secret.” Jay-Z (Dear Summer)

I digress…

Beckham’s situation was the perfect storm. His girlfriend and future wife just happened to be 1/5 of the biggest pop act on the planet. A woman who’s stated life ambition was to be “…as famous as Persil Automatic”. This instantly gave him access to places his sporting exploits alone wouldn’t take him. Celebrity girlfriend, endorsements, political influence, a personal blueprint followed by very few footballers before him, but every major footballer after him, The David Beckham effect will forever be imprinted on popular culture.

david-beckham-timeline

There are very few sporting personalities that manage to transcend their primary sphere of influence. In the world of football in the Internet age David Joseph Beckham was the first and is still the biggest football star on the planet.

The true definition of a game changer and because of him football will never be the same again.

I Do Better When You Do Better

You’re only as strong as your weakest link. A timeless philosophy that is still as relevant today as it has ever been. When it comes to sports, its a philosophy that’s been adopted more readily in the United States where the financial model of the sports industry is quite unique. This coming season (2016/17) will be the first in the Premier League under the updated deal for their broadcast rights, £5.1bn from 2016-2019. An absolutely staggering amount by any standards and in contrast to Spain for example, is testament to what can happen when teams work together.

Currently La Liga is the only top flight league that allows teams to individually negotiate their own individual TV deals and the disparity between the highest and lowest earners is 10:1. Consequently this has created the situation where the relegated teams in the Premier League earn more from broadcast revenue than 90% of all La Liga teams. (Only Real Madrid and Barcelona earn more.) Encouragingly the Spanish League are moving towards a collective bargaining TV deal. Latest reports suggest all teams are now in favour, Real Madrid being the last of the hold outs. Any collective bargaining agreement would initially mean less money for them (Real and FCB currently take home 50% of all broadcast revenue in Spain) but thankfully they’ve decided to put the long term health of the league ahead of their own short term needs.

This ideology is akin to what happens on the other side of the Atlantic. So is there anything more we can learn from our American friends, and would they work on this side of the pond?

During the last 50 years the NFL has become the gold standard of sports organisations. For those of you who are interested, this Vanderbilt Research Paper is very well written and gives a detailed picture of the beauty of the NFL business.

Disclaimer: I’m speaking from a purely financial health perspective. The way they have recently dealt with bullying, domestic violence, and other scandals that have come their way means that the NFL has a long way to go before they will be a morally upstanding organisation.

New-England-Patriots

The New England Patriots (shown above) are the most successful franchise in the NFL over the past decade, both on and off the field. So what are the most interesting traits we can learn from American sport?
– Salary Cap
– Player Draft

Player recruitment in Europe and to be fair across the whole football world is very different to the US. Each team generally has their own academy, an international scouting network, and an established method of player acquisition. Given the lack of a “feeder” network, and the absence of a strong university network, or for that matter any established single source of player talent, a player draft (IMHO) isn’t viable for Europe right now. Watch this space though…

dangelo-russell-jalil-okafor-karl-anthony-townD’Angelo Russell (La Lakers), Jahlil Okafor (Philadelphia 76ers), Karl Anthony Towns (Minnesota Timberwolves

A salary cap on the other hand is much more interesting…but what is it?

It’s a fixed annual amount mandated by the governing body which all member teams adhere to. This is used in the NBA, NFL and many major sports organisations in the US. Specifically in the NFL, in 2014 the cap was set at $133m for each team; of which at least 95% of that figure must be contractually paid out to all active players. At the end of each year, any money not contractually paid out is shared between the active players on a teams roster. Incidentally the salary cap only applies to players and not any other franchise employee.

Teams can face huge penalties if they either go over the limit or are found to be gaming the system. Back in 2012 the NFL reduced the combined salary cap of the Washington Redskins and Dallas Cowboys by $46 million for this precise reason. Contrast this with the relative speed tickets given to Man City and PSG when they fell foul of FFP regulations and you can start to see why American sports franchises are generally the gold standard for how to run sports teams.

The intention of the salary cap (and the reason for the sanctions) is to promote competitive balance.

So does it work?

In a word, YES. Within the last 30 years 14 different NFL teams have won the Super Bowl, whilst 25 different teams have made an appearance on the final game day. In the last 30 years how many different teams have won the Champions League or have been finalists? This diversity of competition and success in no way shape or form is solely down to the salary cap, but it can’t hurt; and if the objective of scheme is seemingly being realised then you logically have to acknowledge that scheme has it’s merits. No?

In addition it doesn’t take a maths genius to make the connection between salary caps and financially stable sports organisations. Leeds United under Peter Ridsdale, and Liverpool under Gillette & Hicks couldn’t happen in the NFL. In 2014 NFL teams spent on average 53% of revenue on player costs…in 2013 QPR (non champions league playing, relegation candidates) spent 128% of turnover on player and employee wages!

tony-fernandesTony Fernades (QPR Chairman) could probably do with giving the NFL a call.

 

When people say you’re only as strong as your weakest link then that should be a sobering thought for anybody connected with the Premier League.

So what does this mean for you? Well research shows the cap doesn’t affect the prices charged for tickets and merchandise, but it does affect the way a team keeps and acquires players. On average NFL ticket prices increase 3.1% a year, whilst in the Premier LEague it’s 8.7% (3x the rate of inflation). The lack of a salary cap means we will always have a select group of clubs who are able to offer top wages to the elite players, and consequently it’s these same teams who are there when the prizes are handed out at the end of the season. Ultimately the absence of a salary cap creates an imbalance in the competitive ability of each team and short changes the quality of the product served to us the fans.

In reality a salary cap is much harder to enforce in Europe. The freedom of movement between teams across borders would mean that this would need to be a UEFA level directive. Given their reluctance to even embrace goal-line technology, I’m not holding my breath to see this anytime soon. It would be encouraging to know that policy makers and football regulators thought about the big picture and actively looked at how to make the game more accessible for consumers, sadly this doesn’t appear to be the case.

I never thought I’d say this but maybe we should all become a bit more American!

 

 

The Galactico Godfather

It’s the year 2000, the Y2k bug was proven to be a false alarm and a man so unremarkable to look at that you couldn’t pick him out in a line-up was elected President of the biggest football club on the planet (at the 2nd attempt). That man is Florentino Perez, the club is Real Madrid and what followed is truly remarkable and the results are now unforgettable sporting history. In 2014, Real Madrid were crowned European Champions for the 10th time, won the Spanish Cup (Copa Del Rey), and went on to win both the European Super Cup and World Club Championship. Only city rivals Atletico de Madrid stood between them and a clean sweep of every trophy available.Off the pitch for the 2nd year running Forbes has valued them as the most valuable sporting franchise in the world. Revenues are at an all time high and what we’re seeing is the perfect fruits of the labour of Florentino Perez and his team.

Vindication of an ideology that few clubs can authentically replicate, however much they would like to. Florentino Perez twice ran his campaigns on the platform of improving the finances of Real Madrid and since he took over, Real Madrid have gone from strength to strength. The basic ideology was dubbed Zidanes y Pavones after Zinedine Zidane (then the most expensive footballer in history) and Francisco Pavon (at the time the great white hope brought through from the academy). The “Pavon” part of the philosophy hasn’t really worked out as planned, none of the current 1st choice 11 are academy graduates. Ironically Real were knocked out of the Champions League this season by a goal scored by an academy graduate who didn’t make the grade! However, what is undisputed is the quality of the team, who are a collection of some of the worlds elite footballers mixed with some genuine superstars. Contrast this with fierce rivals Barcelona who have 3 and at their peak had 7 academy graduates in their first 11.

Los Galacticos is a very fitting name

Here is our pick of the best 11 players that have been brought through the gates of the Bernabeu by Florentino Perez.

real-madrid-perez-signings

Some of the greatest players in history, with plenty more missing! Irresponsible spending, massive debts, astronomical wages which mean this is another classic example of living beyond your means…Typical right? WRONG! Below is an illustration of the wage:turnover ratio for Real Madrid…Perez has managed to reduce this ratio by nearly 40%, and is well inside the maximum level recommended by the ECA.

real-madrid-wage-to-turnoverReal Madrid Wages 2000 – 2014 (Source: Real Madrid Annual Accounts 2014)

A sobering picture for any fan or executive not connected to Real Madrid. They’re currently the No.1 club in the world, are able to pay the best players the absolute best wages…and their business is built on solid foundations which means they can keep doing it!

SO HOW DID HE DO IT?

Real Madrid are 5x the size they were when Perez took over. Encouragingly he has not fueled that growth on the back of the “little man” i.e. the fans. When he took over in 2000; 40% of total income came from Members and Stadium, today it’s 25%. What has underpinned his presidency is the market appeal of his players, and his ability to financially capitalise on that. Unsuprisingly, income from marketing has become the most important revenue stream, making up 32% of total income (ahead of broadcasting). Most impressively is the 13% of revenue that comes from international friendly matches. Madrid have always been a world famous team, in Perez they found a man who knew how to spectacularly reap the benefits of that fame.

real-madrid-operating-income

 

Footballing success and financial success go hand in hand, fans across the world part with their hard earned money because of emotion, memories and a shared sense of being part of something bigger than themselves. When all is said and done it’s the men in the dugout and on the pitch that make the difference between agony and ecstasy and greatness and obscurity.
Players come and go but the ideology, philosophy and the man remain the same. An institution developed in his own image with spectacular results.

 

Real Madrid: The House that Perez built.

Je Suis Legend

thierry henry number collage

The numbers above have no obvious connection, just random numbers that could mean anything. Yet when you connect them to the name Thierry Daniel Henry these numbers come alive, take meaning and they begin to tell you the story of one of the greatest players ever to grace the Premier League. With the Arsenal badge on his chest and the number 14 on his back, he scored 228 Arsenal goals, 175 of them in Premier league alone. Both tally’s higher than any other player in the club’s history. His influence wasn’t just confined to domestic competition; the 42 goals in European competition, 35 of which came in the Champions league stand as testament to a striker who at his best was described by his peers and contemporaries as simply unplayable.

‘“The only way to stop Thierry Henry? With a gun!” – Gianluca Vialli

Whichever way you slice and dice it, when they write the history of Arsenal Football club, Thierry Henry will have his own chapter and deserves every word written.

Loved by few, Feared by many, Respected by everyone

“I watched him a long time ago when I was manager of Fiorentina and he was playing for the French Under-21 team, I said to my chairman he is the Muhammad Ali of the football pitch because he has such elegance, such speed. He does everything with such style, I said please buy him because he is one of the best, but it did not happen for some reason” – Claudio Ranieri

6’2”, with the pace of an olympic sprinter, strong, skillful, two footed, and unselfish.

Not a natural goalscorer in the traditional sense, Henry joined Arsenal as a young left winger who had just won the World Cup in that position. It took him 8 games to show the world what Arsene Wenger already knew…and the rest is literally history. He would go on to become the greatest goalscorer in the history of Arsenal Football Club, score more goals (137) at Highbury than any man alive or dead, and in the process set a record that will NEVER be broken.

His name will forever stand alone in history.

“Thierry Henry, he was definitely the best. He was just too quick. Oh God, what a player he was. I was so relieved when he went to Barcelona. He used to have everything. You couldn’t even kick him, he was big and strong, oh, Jesus, he was a nightmare” – Jamie Carragher

An unselfish footballer who created almost as many goals as he scored but was also the focal point of one of the greatest teams in Premier League history. A joy to play with, and a nightmare to play against. Speaking personally as a non-Arsenal fan; Win, lose or draw Henry was an absolute privilege to watch. A leader amongst men with a deep rooted and insatiable will to win. When Arsenal needed a big goal, in a big game, against big opposition Henry was the go to guy.

It is probably right to give the last word to the man who gave him his chance as a 17 year old at Monaco. The man Henry himself still calls ‘The Boss’

“What makes him special? He has a mixture of physical talent and technical ability, as well as remarkable intelligence and above all a great passion for the game.” -Arsene Wenger

Thierry Henry: Legend. Enjoy!

Puppet Master

“…They emptied themselves, for us, gave up a piece of their lives, for us, thanks guys, this is why we do it.” – Larry Merchant speaking about the Gatti vs. Ward trilogy.

 

At it’s best a professional boxing ring is to us what the colliseum was to ancient Rome. An exhibition of man’s primal need to compete. Whether it be the playground, gym, playing field, or boardroom, as a species we have a genetic hardwiring to physically prove ourselves. Below is an amazing documentary about the rivalry between 4 of the greatest fighters in history, and how it cemented their legacy and defined an era.

 

Greatness isn’t a mathematical equation, it isn’t purely about what you achieve, but also how you achieve it and how you made people feel. Historically as that amazing documentary shows, to proclaim yourself to be the best, you needed to prove yourself better than other competitors who had the same pretensions. We’ve now reached a point in the sport of boxing where this seems no longer to be the case.

 

“I get sick to my stomach that the top fighters today don’t fight the best. Wouldn’t be surprised if Mayweather fights Cotto” – Oscar De la Hoya (Jan 2015)

 

De la Hoya was ultimately wrong (Mayweather has since signed on and won the fight we all wanted to see vs. Manny Pacquiao) but at the time he was voicing his frustrations about the failed negotiations between his own fighter Canelo Alvarez and Middleweight champion Miguel Cotto. Earlier quotes from Canelo suggested he’d agreed to all of Cotto’s demands, so it begs the question what other obstacle could there be to getting the fight made?

At the time of that quote the richest fight in history was in jeopardy. The two best pound for pound fighters in the world, the same weight division, and the court of public opinion had ruled that the only thing holding the fight up was the unwillingness of one man to put pen to paper…Floyd “Money” Mayweather.

This is symptomatic of how “Money” has managed his career, highest reward for the lowest risk. Picking fighters with a big enough name at the right time in their careers; fighters who don’t represent an unnceccesarily big threat, yet still create enough interest to generate a huge payday. You’d probably do the same if you were guaranteed a minimum $32m every time you fought regardless of the level of opposition.

 

The problem with this is that other fighters are adopting this career model without realising that Floyd Mayweather is the exception rather than the rule itself.

Who’s to blame? That’s not for me to tell you; that’s for you to decide for yourself and form your own opinion. Multiple organisations, WBC, WBA, WBO, IBF, Interim champions, silver champions, super champions…Too many belts and too many champions.

Boxing itself (by design) is very fragmented with no real cohesive order. So much so that if an individual or an organisation came along and did things differently, they could turn the boxing world on its head. Well that indivdual and organisation are real and are changing the landscape of boxing right before our eyes.

 

Step forward Al Haymon.

 

Al Haymon is a Harvard educated Economics graduate who made his name and fortune in the entertainment industry managing MC Hammer, Whitney Houston, Mary J Blige and Eddie Murphy amongst others. Back in 2000, Haymon ventured into boxing managing Vernon Forrest and since then has amassed a client list unrivalled anywhere in boxing, with the jewel in the crown being Floyd Mayweather Jr.

What Haymon has realised and more importantly acted upon, is the nature of boxing means that he can earn his fighters more money for less risky fights. As a fighter who’s professional career is by nature short, dangerous, and not always lucrative, that can be a very attractive proposition. So in this world where lesser fighters earn more money due to larger exposure, everybody wins right? Well no. Haymon wins (obviously), his fighters generally win, but consumers ultimately lose. The reason being spectators are continuously served fights that aren’t the best quality available. In contrast to the UFC where there is one champion and quality match ups are a necessity. The thought process being if theres 1 champion and 20 challengers, the 20 challengers have to fight between themselves to earn a shot at the crown and the champion cannot remain champion without fighting the top challengers. This cannot be said for boxing.

 

 

So if we the fans are losing out, what can we do?

 

Simple answer is to stp watching & stop paying unless they are the quality match ups that we all expect to see. Recently Haymon launched a series on NBC where he has agreed to provide 24 fight dates on network TV in a move that aims a bazuka at Showtime, HBO and the current structure of boxing as we know it.

 

“He’s promised NBC that he’s going to take his fighters off premium cable … he’s going to put Showtime and HBO out of the puzzle and he’s going to do away with pay-per-view and create an over-the-top network. He’s got the fighters and he’s presumably got the money. I wish him the best and I totally and sincerely mean it. I pray he doesn’t blow it because if he does, we’re not going back to [network TV for a while]. If he’s successful, all the networks will want boxing.”

– Kathy Duva

 

For me the key line in that quote is “I pray he doesn’t blow it…” If his current busines model is the blueprint of the future, then I fear that’s what’s going to happen. When fans start to reject substandard product, then it becomes a wider problem.

Hunter S. Thompson once wrote that “Life should not be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside in a cloud of smoke, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and loudly proclaiming “Wow! What a Ride!”. For the sake of boxing, I hope Al Haymon and his fighters soon come around to that way of thinking.

The best fighters consistently fighting each other, to earn greatness and cement their legacy.

One man more than any other is in a position to make happen.

 

Al Haymon the future of boxing is in your hands. DO NOT BLOW IT!

Dear Kobe

They say all good things must come to an end, but what about great things?
Great things don’t end, they don’t die, and they are never forgotten, because things are never the same afterwards.
Greatness lives on, indelibly inked in the memory of whoever was lucky enough to experience it.
That’s why I’m writing this.
The game of basketball will never be the same because you came this way.

You desperately loved the game, and the game loved you back.
I wish I could say that it was always the love you deserved.
Like many great relationships, you never fully appreciate them while you’re in it.
“If you admire somebody you should go ahead and tell ’em,
Cos people never get the flowers whilst they can still smell ’em…” – Kanye West

As I sit here and try to put almost 20 years of achievements into a few paragraphs, the effort seems like an injustice.
How can I find the words to capture what you truly meant to the game of basketball and to professional sports.
How can I convey the impact you had with the premiere of your documentary “Muse”?
What prose can I string together to accurately communicate how special an individual you were, and are.
A man carved from a mould made in a different time.

You articulate your thoughts in a manner unlike most athletes in professional sports.
Driven, bordering on maniacal;
Your mindset unique, and workrate unquestionable;
THE personification of what it means to be a competitor.
So now I’ll let you do what you’ve done your whole career, and that’s write your own story


“There’s a choice, that we have to make as people, as individuals,
If you want to be great at something there’s a choice you have to make.
We all can be masters at our craft, but you have to make a choice.
What I mean by that, is there are inherent sacrifices that come along with that.
Family time, hanging out with your friends…whatever the case may be
There’s sacrifices that come along with making that decision” – Kobe Bryant from the documentary “Muse”


“I wanted to learn how to become the best basketball player in the world
I knew that I was not going to be stopped
At the age of 18 THIS WAS MY LIFE
So you can’t possibly become better than me,
Because you’re not spending the time on it that I do.
Even if you wanted to spend the time on it…you CAN’T.
So I already won…” – Kobe Bryant from the documentary “Muse”


“The most important thing is to put everybody on notice that you’re here and you’re for real
I’m not a player that’s just gonna come and go,
I’m not a player that’s gonna make an allstar team 1 time, 2 times
I’m here to be an all time great” – Kobe Bryant from the documentary “Muse”


“Once I had made that commitment and said…
I want to be one of the greatest EVER, then the game became everything for me.
The challenge was not only to win one but to win multiple ones
To be able to sit at the same lunch table with my muses
Michael, Magic.
I wanted to be able to sit down at the same lunch table with them, and belong there.
and I’m very proud to be able to say, I can do that.” – Kobe Bryant from the documentary “Muse”

 

Enjoy the victory lap, and let the game give you the salute you more than deserve.

Hoop Dreams

test-image

 

“Fifty percent of all Division II basketball players think they are going pro; A quarter of all Division III basketball players think they are going pro. None of them are.” – Mark Emmert. NCAA President & CEO

 

Like many 18 year olds, athletes hoping to go pro have sever delusions of grandeur, and think they are better than they really are. In some rare cases a talent comes along who just might be as great as they (and we) think they are…What then?
Ben Simmons is a supremely gifted forward, 19 years old, 6″9, and he’s the concensus No.1 overall draft pick in this years NBA Draft. Why? Because he possesses a talent that has people wondering if we’re seeing the second coming of LeBron James. (LeBron James himself has signed him to his Klutch Sports agency).

ben-simmons-lebron-james-instagram

March madness is the end of season finale to college basketball ultimately crowning the best team in college basketball. For the past year Simmons has been playing at LSU, a basketball program not good enough to qualify for the event.
Now one of the dirty little secrets of the NCAA is that March Madness, often serves up games of such low quality they’re painful to watch and are all in a predominant style of play that doesn’t reflect how the game is played in the promised land of the NBA. If this is supposed to be the pinnacle of college basketball and Ben Simmons’ team wasn’t good enough to qualify, I ask the question:

Is the No.1 draft pick in the NBA better equipped today for professional basketball, than he was a year ago?

Mark Cuban owner of the Dallas Mavericks emphatically says no “Three kids passing on the perimeter. With 10 seconds on the shot clock, they try to make something happen and two other kids stand around. It’s horrible. It’s ridiculous, It’s worse than high school. You’ve got 20 to 25 seconds of passing on the perimeter and then somebody goes and tries to make a play and do something stupid.”

NCAA President & CEO Mark Emmert has this to say “To force someone to go to college for one year to get acclimated to a professional experience, that doesn’t make any sense to me as an educator, to go and touch base for six months is a travesty to what the college experience is supposed to be about. I don’t blame the kid who is doing what he has to, and I don’t blame the coaches who want to win. But the system is letting down a lot of people.”

Owners, Colleges and Athletes all unhappy so in the words of Aaliyah “We need a resolution!” and by that I mean we need a change to the “one and done” rule.

 

What is the “one and done” rule?

 

All drafted players must be at least 19 years old during the calendar year of the draft. To determine whether a player is eligible for a given year’s draft, subtract 19 from the year of the draft. If the player was born during or before that year, he is eligible. Any player who is not an “international player”, as defined in the CBA, must be at least one year removed from the graduation of his high school class. The “one year out of high school” requirement is in addition to the age requirement. Players whose 19th birthday falls during or before the calendar year of the draft, are at least one year removed from the graduation of their high school class, and who do not meet the criteria for “international” players are automatically eligible if they meet any of the following criteria:

  • They have completed 4 years of their college eligibility.
  • If they graduated from high school in the U.S., but did not enrol in a U.S. college or university, four years have passed since their high school class graduated.
  • They have signed a contract with a professional basketball team outside of the NBA, anywhere in the world, and have played under that contract.

 

You also must be released from your contract before you can leave college to go to the NBA. Those who have reached the minimum eligibility age of 19 and meet the criteria for “international” players are automatically eligible if they meet any of the following criteria:

  • They are least 22 during the calendar year of the draft.
  • They have signed a contract with a professional basketball team outside of the NBA within the United States, and have played under that contract.

REALLY?

In America an 18 year old is legally able to get married, consent to sex, own a gun, and enlist in the military, but yet is not able to decide for themselves whether or not they are ready for the demands of professional basketball…clearly something doesn’t add up. Well like in all good stories “Follow the money” and you’ll find your answers.

The NCAA generates over $1bn of revenue each year and this is in addition to the revenue generated by each individual athletic program, which is a further combined $11.5bn…yep that’s WRATH OF GOD MONEY. So what’s the problem? You’re 18 years old with your whole life and career ahead of you, there’s $12bn swirling around, the standard you have to play against isn’t the best apparently, easy money right? It could be, except NONE of that $12bn is going anywhere close to your pocket. You see the NCAA considers college players as “Student Athletes” which is an incredibly effective phrase that says a lot but in actual fact doesn’t say anything.

University of Connecticut vs University of Kentucky, 2014 NCAA National Championship
College Basketball: NCAA Final Four: UConn Shabazz Napier (13) in action, pass vs Kentucky Dakari Johnson (44) at AT&T Stadium. Arlington, TX 4/7/2014 CREDIT: Greg Nelson (Photo by Greg Nelson /Sports Illustrated/Getty Images) (Set Number: X158058 TK1 R7 F121 )

 

So what does it mean?

 

“The term student-athlete was deliberately ambiguous. College players were not students at play (which might understate their athletic obligations), nor were they just athletes in college (which might imply they were professionals). That they were high-performance athletes meant they could be forgiven for not meeting the academic standards of their peers; that they were students meant they did not have to be compensated, ever, for anything more than the cost of their studies. Student-athlete became the NCAA’s signature term, repeated constantly in and out of courtrooms.”

 

Using the “student-athlete” defense, colleges have compiled a string of victories in liability cases and to this day the organization continues to invoke it as both a legalistic defense and a noble ideal.

“This union-backed attempt to turn student-athletes into employees undermines the purpose of college: an education, Student-athletes are not employees, and their participation in college sports is voluntary. We stand for all student-athletes, not just those the unions want to professionalize.” – NCAA Chief Legal Officer Donald Remy

Basically the NCAA and it’s members can do anything they want (legally) to generate unlimited revenue, and they do not owe a penny to the athletes over and above the cost of their education. No medical liability, no obligation to pay image rights…nothing. And it doesn’t even end there…

1) NCAA rules prohibit a “student athlete” from getting a job that pays more than $2500 a year.

Taking the minimum wage of $7.25, $2500/year equates to working no more than 10hrs/week (during term time only) or 7hrs/week all year. I don’t know about you but I don’t know any minimum wage jobs where they will allow you to work less than 10hrs a week. Also why would anyone want to do that?

2) NCAA rules prohibit a “student athlete” benefiting from endorsements and profiting from their personal image.

College-bound and current student-athletes who want to compete at Division I and II schools need to preserve their eligibility by meeting NCAA amateurism requirements. If a college-bound student-athlete is paid for appearing in a commercial or receives an endorsement before he or she is accepted at an NCAA member school, his or her eligibility could be affected.

If the college-bound student-athlete was chosen for the commercial or other event for reasons other than athletic ability, he or she may be compensated. If the college-bound student-athlete was chosen to participate because of his or her athletic ability, he or she may not be paid. However, the prospective student-athlete may receive expenses related to the commercial event such as meals or lodging.

3) NCAA rules dictate athletic scholarships are not guaranteed income.

Athletic scholarships are a one-year, merit-based award that requires that a player meet both academic performance as well as “participation expectations” in their sport. So, if you get injured and are unavailable for selection, or for some other reason you do not play enough games…the college no longer has a legal requirement to pay your scholarship money.

 

All in all that means a college athlete is forced to put their body on the line day in day out and the only source of income they are legally allowed to have, is directly related to their health and performance.

College athletes are essentially FORCED TO WORK FOR FREE…at least for a year in the case of the NBA. For the NFL the mandatory college term is longer.

 

What does this mean for Ben Simmons?

 Below is the guide value for NBA rookie contracts, as of the 2015/16 season. Players can sign for as much as 120% and as little as 80% of the quoted figures.

nba-rookie-contract-scale

That’s right, the current collective bargaining agreement has cost Ben Simmons as much as $5.7m + $Xm from any endorsements he could potentially earn himself; all to participate in a rigged system that by all accounts does not adequately prepare him for the next level.

A common misconception surrounding this rule is, the NCAA has any type of control over it. The rules were written under the current NBA collective bargaining agreement and as such the NCAA, has “no choice” but to sit back and abide by them. Whilst that is the situation, it is a fact that they disproportionately benefit (to the tune of $12.5bn a year). So despite it being a morally and ethically unfair system, it would take a very brave NCAA President to lobby to change the rule.

Hypothetically if the system were to change, what are the options?

1) Lower the minimum age of entry into the NBA.

If there is an 18 year old player who is physically and mentally ready to compete with LeBron James, Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and Kawhi Leonard, they and we shouldn’t be denied the chance to experience that. However, lowering the minimum age should also come with a greater amount of education for high school players with regards to where they realistically are on the development curve.

1996 NBA Draft
NEW YORK – JUNE 26: Kobe Bryant poses for a portrait after being selected by the Charlotte Hornets in the first round of the 1996 NBA Draft on June 26, 1996 at Madison Square Garden in New York, New York. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 1996 NBAE (Photo by Andy Hayt/NBAE via Getty Images)

60 players get drafted to the NBA each year, and only 30 of them (1st round picks) have a guaranteed minimum salary. The combination of giving people options, and better education of the pro’s and cons of those options, leads to better decision making. This will raise the level of talent and performance across the D-League and college basketball.

2) Further elevate the NBA D-League

The theory of the NBA D-League is what college basketball should be, and that’s preparing players to perform in the NBA. It should be a mandatory requirement for EVERY NBA franchise to operate a D-League team, whether it be a 1-1 or a hybrid affiliation. As of the 2016/17 season there will be 22 NBA teams with D-League affiliations, for the wider NBA to fully reap the benefits of the model then every team needs to be involved.

Lin_DLeague

Player salaries in the D-League have three tiers: $13,000, $19,000 or $25,000; so it’s obvious athletes don’t go into the D-League for the money. The benefits are exposure and playing in an NBA-like system, and consequently, real preparation for the next level.

3) Refine and Elevate College Basketball

a) Make scholarships guaranteed.
b) Allow college players to benefit from endorsements.

Once an athlete chooses to enter the college system, they will not be eligible for any draft (NBA or D-League) until they are either 2 years (Junior College) or 4 years removed from high school. I firmly believe, a college player who’s chosen to be there and knows he’ll be there for 4 years will perform at a higher level than one who is being forced to be there and knows he’ll only be there for a year.

christian-laettner

The reality is the vast majority of players peak in college and will never play in the NBA so if an athlete is presented with a combination of the above options it forms a pretty robust system. Special talents will of course go straight to the NBA, all other players will have a choice between

1) Developing in the D-League, earning some money, with no education but the constant chance of being called up to the NBA.

Or

2) Developing in college, whilst getting an education and potentially capitalising on your (statistically likely) moment in the sun, with no shot of the NBA at least until college is over.

Either way every athlete has the freedom to create their own path and write their own story.

Who doesn’t love freedom?