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Last season, Carmello Anthony of the Knicks started his season roughly thirty pounds overweight. (Melo Out of Shape)

He played for a team that emphasized ball movement, and as it turns out, nobody is more efficient driving to the basket than Carmello (Sports Illustrated Article). Except he was too fat to do it regularly, so he settled for contested jumpers at a low percentage.

He got hurt, which happens when you are out of shape, and then watched his team start winning because they could actually move the ball. Anthony enjoys a lot of influence on the team because of his huge guaranteed salary. Anthony sandbagged the coach, who promptly got fired because it was easier to get rid of him than to get rid of Anthony. The promising point guard went to Houston, and the season went down in flames.

Anthony decided to get into shape because he was playing in the Olympics, (as the 17 million dollars he made last season was apparently insufficient motivation) where he shot the lights out.

It happens in all sports. The boxing matches where both guys know they’re getting a good purse so they ease through the later rounds and cruise to a decision. You’re stuck on the hook for fifty-sixty bucks, watching a guy that has to fight maybe twenty four rounds (tops!) that year, and he doesn’t feel like it.  The baseball contests completely drained of any urgency because there are 162 games in a season, and you get paid regardless. The football matchup on week 16, with non-playoff teams that couldn’t care less, even though you’re stuck with the seat license, parking fees, ticket prices, and concessions. (Not to mention the tax burden you now have because of the stadium.)

Todd Pinkston.

It comes to something when you can legitimately say that the athletes that work the hardest consistently… are pro wrestlers. (200+ days on the road, no off-season, high impact, and relentless physical training).

Every major sport has roughly the same problems, most of which can be fixed by one simple idea. Pay players only when they win.

Crazy right? Hear me out.

Get rid of guaranteed contracts except for the signing bonus. You’d have to tweak the nature of those contracts, for instance in football, make the minimum contract roughly $625,000, and then prorate it over 16 games (at present, the minimum is $355,000). That’s a little over $39,000 a game. Win eight games in a season, that’s about the normal veteran’s minimum. Add the usual performance bonuses for making the Pro Bowl, or getting 10 sacks, or whatever, and even veterans could do quite well.

Free agency would be similar, you would bid on players and get them a signing bonus, but the rest of the money would be prorated per game. You could sign a huge contract overall, but the value is based on wins.

The math for owners would be a little more difficult, the initial cap numbers would seem higher, but it is likely that the actual outlay of money would probably be lower. Especially if you’re a Browns fan. Teams couldn’t just lose games by fielding horrible teams and milking revenue sharing (I’m looking at you Mike Brown) because players contracts would allow them them more options to leave, say, after two years as a restricted free agent in a four year contract, and overall effort would be higher.

But here’s the flip side. No more meaningless sporting events. Oh, it’s the end of the season and the Charlotte Bobcats are playing the Timberwolves? Well, both teams have guys with bills that need to get paid bad. It would have the intensity of a playoff game.

Guys wouldn’t keep showing up in the off-season out of shape, or their teammates would kill them. Holdouts would be irrelevant: if you ball, then you got paid, if you didn’t, you knew why. It even affects owners. They wouldn’t be able to field cheap, non-competitive teams in the same way. Free agents and draft picks wouldn’t sign with them, and teams wouldn’t quit so easily.

Just this concept would change it all. Because what everyone on their side has forgotten in the mad dash for money, is that all the people want to see is truly great effort.

Gatti and Ward weren’t champs when they fought, they weren’t even contenders, but that effort, that effort made the Mohegan Sun feel like Madison Square Garden. Earl Campbell didn’t win a championship, but when you see him dragging three or four men for every yard, isn’t that the essence of sports right there? You can say what you want about Lance Armstrong, but give 99.99% of all human beings whatever drug cocktail you want, and they don’t even FINISH the Tour de France, much less win it seven times. It’s two weeks of hell, consisting of falls, inclines, and exercise so intense that riders cannot maintain body weight (Rider Stress) but that moment Lance crosses the finish line transcends sports.

It’s that moment as a people where we surpass the limits of our humanity, our imperfections, our weaknesses, our injuries, gravity, every arbitrary obstacle and for one second, we are great. When someone does that, we are all great. We forget about our jobs, our differences, everything. Our individual self is gone, and all woes with it. For a few moments we just exist.

And then it’s taken from us, by quibbling owners, petulant athletes, slimy agents, autocratic coaches. They just don’t get it. Do it long enough, separate us from those moments, and you’ll be forgotten about.

It’ll never happen, of course. It makes more sense for the NHL to threaten a lockout in a sport that’s near disaster and at one point didn’t have a major TV deal, (over rolling back contracts that some owners offered A MONTH ago), or the NBA losing part of a season to stop ‘superteams’ from forming, then immediately forming said ‘superteams,’ or the NFL implementing a bunch of new rules, and deciding that they would be enacted by Lingerie Bowl refs, than to consider something like this.

But it’s fun to dream.

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