“Show me the Money!!” This phrase, made famous by the 1996 football film Jerry Maguire, has never been more applicable to the world of sports. In the movie, Rod Tidwell (played by Cuba Gooding, Jr.) is an eccentric NFL player disgruntled by the terms of his contract who stands by his agent, Jerry Maguire (played by Tom Cruise), even after he is fired from Sports Management International (SMI). In return for his loyalty, Tidwell demands that Maguire “show him the money” by getting him a new, more lucrative contract. As the movie progresses, Tidwell learns to let his passion for the game of football, rather than a desire for money alone, fuel his success on the field which, of course, ultimately brought with it the financial success he desired.
This past week, the five month long NBA Lockout drew to a close. Owners and players have finally agreed on a new Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA), allowing a shortened season to begin on Christmas Day. For months, negotiations between owners and players were stalled regarding terms of the new agreement, especially as to what percentage of Basketball Related Income (BRI) each side would be entitled. While everyone from the owners and players to fans to local businesses are excited, and rightly so, about the return of the NBA, the lockout highlighted a fact that will not soon be forgotten by fans; in matters of sports, money trumps passion for the game. This simple truth, logically speaking, should not come as a shock. After all, aren’t regular paychecks just about the only reason most people find the energy to go to work every day? Nonetheless, the lockout, viewed by many as a petty squabble between millionaires and billionaires, has resulted in a diminished respect for the game of basketball. As fans, we like to feel that athletes are a pure embodiment of the competitive nature that lies deep within all of us (no matter how often we may have to suppress it in the name of civility). We like to pretend that they are not athletes at all, but fearless warriors stepping onto the battlefield, hungry for victory and unyielding in their quest for dominance and glory. From the perspective of the fan, it is this unrelenting passion that lies at the core of sports. When players say they won’t compete until owners “show them the money” and vice versa, the fan’s imaginary world comes crashing down. Behind every idealized warrior lies a regular person. Behind every suit of armor, a well-tailored business suit. Coming off of one of the most successful seasons it has ever had, the NBA needs to take a lesson from Rod Tidwell and focus on a love of the game rather than money in order to regain fans’ loyalty. Forget money, show us the passion!!