Friday , Aug , 12 , 2005 C.Y. Ellis

Shut Up and Play

Shareef Abdur-Rahim has pissed me off.

And he’s not the only one.

Terrell Owens has pissed me off.

Vince Carter has pissed me off.

Alonzo Mourning has pissed me off.

And damn near every first-round NFL rookie draft pick has pissed me off.

Shut Up and Play

So by now it’s fairly obvious, I am not a happy man, and with good reason.  I am sick to death of professional athletes manipulating their way into, or out of, whatever situation they please. The latest in this increasingly long line of saboteurs is Shareef Abdur-Rahim.

On August 3rd, 2005 the New Jersey Nets pulled a deal with the Portland Trailblazers sending their 2006 first-round draft pick and their $4.9 million trade exception to the Blazers in exchange for nine-year veteran forward Abdur-Rahim. On August 7th Shareef said, “Right now I don’t feel I want to be a Net.” On August 9th, New Jersey rescinded the deal. It’s an interesting thing when you read that last typical, simple, sentence – a subject followed by an action – it gives the impression that the subject was the one who did something, when in reality, the Nets didn’t rescind that deal – Shareef Abdur-Rahim did.

Originally the deal would have meant a six-year, $38 million deal for Abdur-Rahim, but concerns about his surgically repaired right knee put a stop to that real fast. Instead Rod Thorn and the Nets took the financially safe route, turning the six-year, $38 million deal into a four-year, $22.7 million deal. The Nets side is simple and understandable; they won’t take the chance of being left with a permanent injured list member worth $38 million, nor would they be happy with an injury plagued overpaid player for the next six years. If Abdur-Rahim takes the new deal he becomes a Net and spares himself and the Nets this whole mess. As it is, the Nets are left without the low-post threat they traded for and without the opportunity to sign players like Donyell Marshall or Stromile Swift, who both signed with other teams while the Nets tried to deal with Abdur-Rahim.

Now granted, Abdur-Rahim isn’t exactly the ruthless villain in this story either; because of this entire debacle and New Jersey’s attempt to switch deals on him, he’ll be left with decidedly fewer options – including the $47 million deal from the Bucks he passed up before the deal with the Nets – and the damaged goods label Jersey has left him with. So what position does he and his agent, Aaron Goodwin, take? Obviously, they want Shareef to be th victim. “He feels his name has been tainted,” said Goodwin. “He’s very disappointed because there’s nothing wrong with him. He took less than market value when he accepted the deal from New Jersey, early on. He won’t get his full market value now. It’s too late in the game.” And what does Shareef have to say? “There was no way I could take that deal and feel good about myself,” Abdur-Rahim said. “At the end of the day, I really wanted to be in New Jersey, but I wasn’t going to take that.” He wanted to be a Net?Perhaps he’s confused or amnesic because I could have sworn he told the New York Post something to the tune of: “Right now I don’t feel I want to be a Net.” That statement to the Post was made just two days prior to Abdur-Rahim’s “there’s no way I could take that deal” statement. This is where my beef with Abdur-Rahim starts. 

While it’s true Shareef isn’t a villain, he is no victim. He never wanted to play for New Jersey, and now he doesn’t have to. “But he’s left without a team,” you say. And why is that? Because he chose to leave the Nets’ deal on the table and walk. And on what basis? Because he feels he was wronged or disrespected? How ‘wronged’ would you feel if someone offered you $22.7 million dollars to play a game? Shareef will sign with a new team in no time and get more money then he would have in New Jersey for doing so. Perhaps not the $38 million he originally wanted, but more than the secondary offer he scoffed at so heartily. Why should I feel bad for the guy? He wanted more money from a different team and now he’ll get both. The Nets sighted just a few key free agent targets, all of which are now signed with other teams, and Jersey is left with Marc Jackson as a consolation. Abdur-Rahim has still got 29 teams to look to for what he wants, and one of them will most certainly give it to him. Such is the way of the sports world, today.

Like all those egomaniac athletes before him, Abdur-Rahim took the position that what was best for him personally far surpassed what was best for the team he was technically on. I’m not about to give him a break because he managed to screw himself over in the process. He stared $22.7 million in the face and said no without hesitation despite being able to make a team significantly better and as a result be on a team that would have been a legit threat to the Eastern Conference powers. To the average person on the street this is almost unfathomable.

This, the unashamed claim to getting mine, is becoming an all to common trend among pro sports stars, and now even the non-stars trying to squeeze that extra million out of their team and into their bank account. It was started, most notably, in the NFL and is now standard operating procedure for any first-round rookie, or starting veteran whose contract is down to a year or two (or six), or superstar who feels he’s underpaid. Philadelphia Eagles wide receiver Terrell Owens is undeniably the most malapert of these occurrences. Anyone who hasn’t been living underneath a rock knows the story, if you’re in need of an update, TO walked out of Eagles training camp after an outburst against his coach and has been seen doing pilates in his driveway while simultaneously holding press conferences and preparing for his secret debut in the NBDL. Why? Because making $7 million a year and being regarded as one of the top players at his position apparently isn’t enough for him. The fact that two wide receivers in the National Football League, Randy Moss and Marvin Harrison, are paid more than him is just too much to bear.

And this practice is not just in pro football; it’s now spreading to the NBA and other sports. It has taken different forms and is becoming bolder and more common in the world of free agency and trades, but it’s been around for a while. If you want to pick an event in recent history, see the ’99 draft when Steve Francis essentially threatened his way out of going to the then Vancouver Grizzlies. More recently Vince Carter admitted he didn’t play hard in Toronto; Carter gave lackluster effort and took an indifferent approach to his responsibilities with the Raptors all with the mindset of getting out of there. Alonzo Mourning might have the best formula yet, gather all kinds of media and spout off about wanting to be traded and then when, even after being traded, you still don’t get what you want, just retire, un-retire, and sign with whatever team you want. All you have to do is sacrifice professionalism and loyalty.

This is becoming too widespread, too common. Even so are still those fans that believe it is a player’s right to demand more money or a trade to a team of their choice. And to some degree, they are right, a player does, to some extent, have the right to voice his desires for his career. But for a player of any status in any sport to manipulate and become a nuisance when he doesn’t get what he wants is a complete disregard for his teammates, his team, and his respective sport. It’s wrong and fans along with media should continue to let athletes know it’s wrong.

In all these instances there are images and words that will never leave my mind because they strike me as ludicrous. Terrell Owens shedding crocodile tears to get people to feel sorry for him struck me as one of the most pathetic things I’ve ever seen a professional athlete do. Then there’s Shareef Abdur-Rahim’s quote: “Right now I don’t feel I want to be a Net.” You don’t feel like it? And $22 million can’t persuade you to get over how you feel?

In all this there is one thing that I feel gets overlooked far too often, there are men and women that risk their lives day in and day out and get paid a fraction of what professional athletes do. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics the average yearly salary for a local police officer in 2003 was $45,470. I don’t see police officers bitching about how much the cops in the next precinct are making. They, along with firefighters and all branches of the Armed Forces, lay it on the line on a daily basis for their communities and their country with nary a complaint among them. If only the people we so often herald as heroes could learn that lesson from the true heroes.

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