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When Pro Athletes Behave Like Adults

Examples from Eric Deckker, Steve Nash, and Bob Pettit

by James Leroy Wilson
March 18, 2014

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 When Pro Athletes Behave Like Adults

Former Broncos wide receiver Eric Decker recently signed with the New York Jets.

The Broncos went to the Super Bowl last season and made improvements to its defense. Peyton Manning returns. The Jets are mediocre with a young, struggling quarterback. If winning a championship is Decker's #1 priority, he made an odd choice.

But, the Broncos wouldn't match the Jets offer. Off to New York Decker goes.

* * *

Last week, Grantland had two interesting media pieces. On the BS Report,  Bill Simmons interviewed Bob Pettit, perhaps the greatest forward in the first 20 years of the NBA's history.

A day or two later, the third (11-minute) installment of 40 year-old injured Lakers guard Steve Nash's The Finish Line documentary, about his uncertain basketball future, was featured.

Pettit talked about working in the off-season, which almost all players did in his day. After his tenth season, his off-season boss gave him an opportunity that he didn't feel he could refuse. So he told the St. Louis Hawks owner that he would play two more seasons and then retire. He speaks as a happy man who loved playing but has no regrets walking away when he did. He felt it was the right time to get his post-basketball career rolling. 

Nash is in a different position. His salaries have been in the seven to eight figures in his career, as opposed to Pettit's five. He played at a high level into his late thirties.before getting plagued by injury after he signed with the Lakers, at age 38, in 2012.

He had signed a three-year contract with the Lakers at $9 million per. He's determined to fulfill his end of the deal, by recovering, rehabbing, and coming back for the last year of the deal. But he might, by that time, be a marginal NBA player at best.

And, by sticking around, his $9 million, under the NBA salary cap, means the Lakers will have that much less money to spend on younger, more productive players.

This has caused complaints among Laker fans. It was exacerbated by Nash admitting that "I'm not going to retire because, you know, I want the money... Yes, I do, I want to take that last little bit."

Nash admits that some people would look at it as greed, but says nobody in his shoes would do anything else.

And he's right.

It was the Lakers who erred in offering the contract to Nash, knowing his advanced age. But as long as Nash puts in the effort, he deserves the money.

And Bob Pettit would have done the same. Nash is hanging on to the game because of the money; Pettit walked away from the game because of the money.

* * *

Charles Barkley is one of the great NBA players who never won a title. He said a title would have been great, but the more important thing is to make the money while you still can.

That's why Decker went to the Jets. That's why Nash is returning to the Lakers. That's why Pettit left the game for greener pastures.

To be motivated by money is not the same thing as to be motivated by "greed." After all, even if you loved your job, would you do it if you didn't get paid?

Decker, Nash, and Pettit all acted in their best financial interests. If the trade-offs aren't excessive, it's what responsible adults with families do.

Even when they're playing a "kids game," living a dream 99.999% of us never can, and enjoying perks and privileges we don't even know about, let's be reminded that it's the job of the pro athlete to compete, but the reason they do is for the money.

Just like you and me.

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