Giannis Antetokounmpo’s Act of Charity Exposes Billionaire NBA Owners’ Coronavirus Greed
The NBA’s reigning MVP donated $100,000 to help pay for arena workers’ salaries during the coronavirus pandemic. Too bad many of the league’s ultrarich owners can’t follow suit.
For a few years, I worked for the Portland Timbers as an event staff employee at Providence Park. I scanned tickets, helped guests in wheelchairs get to their seats, gave directions, told some bad jokes here and there, and operated for some hours a week as a little cog in a big ol’ stadium, just keeping people moving and helping everyone have a good time.
As far as jobs where you don’t really make enough money, it’s honestly not bad. My bosses were nice, Portland is pretty temperate during soccer season, listening to the game roll on in the background is fun. Dealing with people who are happy to be somewhere, who love the game and aren’t looking to get kicked out, is way easier than trying to talk someone out of a rage when they can’t find something at Walmart. There are side perks, too; some tenured employees worked in the bowl and got to watch the game for free.
But don’t mistake me, here: It’s precarious. I was working there to supplement my income as I weaseled my way into the media, but a lot of people who work as event staff are living paycheck to paycheck, stitching together an income in a country that has taken exactly no steps to improve their lives for decades. Postponing the NBA season throws their lives into chaos. Same with the hourly workers who staff events at baseball games, concerts, conventions, and all the other large gatherings that have to be postponed or cancelled on account of the quarantine conditions imposed during the novel coronavirus pandemic. God forbid any of them happen to get sick; event staffing doesn’t exactly hook you up with a Cadillac insurance plan.
When the Warriors announced that they would be playing games without fans—a plan that didn’t happen, on account of all NBA games being suspended before they got the chance—the team’s general manager, Bob Myers, speaking to assembled reporters, shed a few tears on behalf of the arena workers who would find themselves without a paycheck for the sake of public health, then psychically shrugged his shoulders, as if to say, “Damn, too bad there’s nothing we can do about that. Paying someone for not working would be immoral!”
Myers neglected to mention, of course, that his employers, Warriors owners and venture capital winners Joe Lacob and Peter Guber, are worth an obscene amount of dough, just opened a giant new stadium that prints money, and they could easily pay out their employees’ lost wages without suffering any concrete material consequences. Most NBA owners have opted not to take this very generous step in the shadow of a crisis that could make the lives of their employees more and more precarious by the day. Mark Cuban, kind of a dirtbag but perpetually attuned to PR concerns, announced he would on Thursday, but from other owners, crickets.
Thankfully, some players stepped in and got the ball rolling. Cavs forward Kevin Love kicked things off, pledging $100,000 for Cleveland arena workers (prompting Cavs owner and Comic Sans enthusiast Dan Gilbert, worth $6.8 billion, to commit to a vague “compensation plan” for arena employees). He has thus far been joined by reigning MVP and immigrant legend Giannis Antetokounmpo (Bucks owner Wes Edens, worth $2.5 billion, matched his generous offering, effectively shamed into action by a 25-year-old professional athlete), and has thus far been joined by New Orleans phenom Zion Williamson (Pelicans owner Gayle Benson is worth $3 billion), and Pistons forward Blake Griffin (Pistons owner Tom Gores is worth a whopping $19.5 billion).
I don’t want to minimize the generosity of the players here. A crisis exposes who we really are, and they have shown that they are at least tangentially aware of the people who make what they do possible, and willing to help. But this crisis has also exposed the true faces of their employers and those are, well, being penny-pinching misers despite having more money than they will ever be able to spend. The day the NBA cancelled their games, all owners clearly should have been generous enough to offer compensation to all their employees, so that they wouldn’t look like lunatics who regard everyone poorer than them as a little speck that generates gold for bank vaults they swim in.
They’re not the only billionaires showing their asses, of course. Jeff Bezos, the richest man in the world, is presiding over a corporate initiative at Whole Foods, Amazon’s natural food store/real estate play, where they are encouraging their healthy employees to, please, if you could be so kind, donate your sick days to anyone who might have COVID-19 so they won’t have to work and sneeze all over the produce we sell, thank you.
Twentysomething NBA stars and their fellow employees should not be the bank that floats people through tough times, but here we are. In the wake of these stars’ fairly modest generosity, teams have started to get the picture, but then the ownership class’s tightfisted nature can be seen. According to The Athletic’s Shams Charania, the Warriors, several days after it probably should have occurred to them, have set up a million-dollar fund for their furloughed employees. But, don’t worry, the absurdly wealthy men who own the team aren’t out on this ship alone: the cost for the fund will be split between players, coaches and ownership, for some reason. It would just violate their deeper nature to pay entirely out of their own pocket, you see, and only after a handful of generous players pressed the issue by highlighting the absurdity of their tightfistedness.
The hearts of billionaires sitting on thrones of satin should flow with the generosity of Jesus Christ. They exploit our infrastructure, they pay people as little as they possibly can, they do everything they can to not pay taxes as a matter of course, and they should be willing, at the drop of a hat, to just pay their damn workers when the whole country is on lockdown and not expect anything in return. At the very least they should have the self-awareness that Cuban exhibited and realize that anyone who hears about this will think they are monstrous.
But, I suppose, you don’t get to have a billion dollars by having a heart filled with concern for your fellow man. Capital celebrates and rewards the darkest parts of our soul by its very design, gives generously to the greedy and the obsessive, and billionaires are the system’s most twisted creations. You can’t just expect these people to do the right thing—it goes against their very nature. We need a government that brings them to heel, makes them pay for the well-being of everyone, teaches them the manners they believe are a waste of their time. Unfortunately, we live in a world where a response to a crisis is not to force the wealthiest people in our society to do their fair part, but instead, to take the opportunity to exalt the glory of the public/private partnership, let everyone know that profits are still possible in these trying times, and let as many rich people as possible step up to the microphone and talk about everything their companies are going to do (up to paying their fair share in taxes) to help us get out of this pickle. The scorpion’s nature is well-known: why, exactly, do we keep cheerily ushering it across the pond when it can’t even bother to act like it gives a crap when we’re drowning in disease?