Thursday, July 8, 2010

Stupid Money

Headline in today’s Washington Post, above the fold: Moneyball, NBA Style. The piece goes on to describe three players who are free agents and will play for the NBA with each earning $100 million or more. Lesser players are below the fold. They’ll only get $75 to $90 million.

Now jump to the very same newspapers, same day, Metro section, above the fold. That story deals with a Washington, DC, homeless man who organized a basketball league for underprivileged kids, then apparently absconded with the $1,000 in sign-up fees he’d wheedled from families who could ill afford it. That headline reads: The Court of Vanished Dreams.

Let’s be honest. Paying someone $100 million or more to throw a leather ball through a metal hoop is stupid money. While I’m sure the players involved spent many hours honing their skills, the fact remains that throwing things through other things has probably less social value than any other endeavor I can currently think of. It does not better society, nor provide a worthwhile service like collecting trash or recycling. It does not increase the safety of the neighborhood, help cure diseases, foster literacy, tend to the ill, or enable my library to remain open longer hours in the evenings to serve a community that cannot get there during the day because its members are working.

I’ll say it again. Stupid money. (As an aside, I’ll admit I’ve been wanting to write about the stupid money involved in collecting rare cars, some of which are bought for more than eight or nine million dollars. But in retrospect, that’s lunch money.)

Now let’s talk about the homeless basketball guy. His name is James Russell; he is gone, allegedly pocketing about a grand in neighborhood money. A reporter found Ruseell in New Jersey, and he promises to pay the money back, but I wouldn’t hold my breath. Being homeless, he probably needed the $1000 but that doesn’t in the least excuse his behavior. What’s interesting is that Russell involved another homeless man, Wade Simmons, to coach the would-be league, and that man, a recovering addict and convicted felon, got his act together to do just that. In anticipation of being given some responsibilities and a measure of trust from others, Simmons cleaned up, found work and rented an apartment. He told the kids not to give up and is coaching now. Still, the kids have no uniforms, and no sponsors.

You know where I’m going with this. If the $100+ mil NBA players were willing to donate one one thousandth of their big bucks to volunteer leagues such as the beleaguered one in downtown DC, it would make one hell of a difference. And it wouldn’t be stupid money anymore.

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