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Just taking it to the bank is what National Basketball Association players are doing

Houston Rocket James Harden now richer than richer and owners just signing on the dotted line. Other professional sports pay well, but rank behind the NBA, while New York Yankee rookie Aaron Judge is the new Bronx Bomber on the road to the land of riches

COMMENTARY By ARNIE LESHIN, Santa Fe Today

Just a look through the world of sports, with the spotlight on the USA.

Let’s start with the outrageous salaries paid to NBA players. No doubt you’ve noticed that Houston Rockets’ guard James Harden just reeled in a record four-year contract extension worth about $160 million, which brings him a total six-year deal with $228 guaranteed.

It was the richest NBA deal ever.

Maybe Harden, an All-Star with an abundance of talent, deserves to make a few extra bucks, but in the Rockets’ Western Conference semi-final loss to the San Antonio Spurs, he was all but noticed. He threw the ball away, he missed easy shots, he forgot to defend, didn’t hustle, he yelled at his teammates, and none of this is what you’d expect from the 6-foot-5 veteran.

But at least he’s a “name” player recruited from Arizona State who has had excellent games through the years, both in Oklahoma City and in Houston.

Then you notice a player hardly the caliber of Harden making unreal moola.

One example, because it would take a lot more space to even mention these players. The New York Knicks just brought back Tim Hardaway, Jr., whom they drafted in 2014 out of Michigan. The figures over four years? Try $161 million, a lot of money for a franchise to spend rather than going after a free agent who is worth more (or less).

Due to the competition in the NBA, the contracts are sky-high. Whether for one year, two, three or more, it’s what the player can take to the bank and a franchise can just chalk it up as paying a player more so that he would not be signed elsewhere.

Some of these players have been around for awhile, some are experiencing the free agency for the first time, either way, it spells wealth for the players, more luxury, more mansions, more expensive jewelry, and sometimes more success for the team that signs these checks.

But there are other examples. Check out two of the better all-time NBA players, legends if you may. One is Tim Duncan, who played 20 years with only the Spurs, the other is Dirk Nowitzki, who played the same number of years with only the Dallas Mavericks.

When Duncan signed his final one-year contract before retiring in 2016, he asked for less than what the team offered, as in $6 million for a player who was once one of the highest-paid player and one of the finest post player in NBA history. Duncan said the team should spend the rest of the money he was offered to bring in more good players.

Same with Nowitzki. He said that he would make 2019 his final season and accepted a two-year deal worth $12 million, which amounts to $6 mil a year for one of the best outside shooters and personalities the NBA has ever had. He, too, informed Dallas owner Mark Cuban that he will take this huge cut in order for the team to have extra money for other signees.

Wow, two 7-footers, Duncan (born in St. Thomas Virgin Isles) from Wake Forest and Nowitzki from Germany, thinking about the team first. Harden? Go figure what he and the team were thinking.

Veterans David West and Richard Jefferson also took the Duncan, Nowitski route, twice signing one-year contract with the Golden State Warriors and Cleveland Cavaliers for a lot less than the millions they once made. Both wanted to play for much less money and win on championship rosters, nothing else.

To move to Major League baseball, you be the judge.

He’s 6-6, 280 pounds, a 24-year-old rookie and his name is Aaron Judge. While the New York Yankees play in Yankee Stadium, he’s the new Bronx Bomber. He leads the majors in home runs with 30, he leads in runs with 75, he is second in RBI with 66, he is among the top ten in hits with 96, and will start in the outfield for the Tuesday All-Star game at Marlins Park in Miami.

Oh, and this Judge polled more votes than any player in the American League, with only Bryce Harper of the Washington Nationals having more.

He has already hit more home runs in a month than Yankee Hall of Famer Joe DiMaggio. He’s not up there in stolen bases, but he has the big stride and can run. And he can field, and although he originally signed for a big bonus, he’s now making the rookie minimum of $440,000.

Reminds me of the days when Hall of Famer Willie Mays would settle for a maximum of $100,000, when Hall of Famer Mickey Mantle would be the first to go over $100,000, but not by much. Hall of Famer Hank Aaron made nothing like what they make these days, and the great Babe Ruth made beer and hot dog money.

Sticking with baseball, year after year they try to speed up the games. But when they do this, it becomes slower and more boring.

Now, pitchers can not take more than 20 seconds before delivering, coaches can not take more than 20 seconds when they come out to the mound, catchers are limited when they head for the hill to speak with the pitcher, and a little this and a little that, with more to come next season.

But it’s baseball. Unless there’s an excellent pitching dual that makes the game a treat in less time, there’s no way to keep the scoring down, there’s no way to decide that a game is not moving along, there’s no way to discontinue arguments on umpire calls, which sometimes only ends when a manager, coach or player is ejected.

And how about the reviews, which only became part of the game in recent times. They take time, sometimes too much time, with even the commentators in the radio or television booths offering their joking opinions. Sometimes these reviews come after a close play that, after the review, changes the call made by the umpire.

Gee, what did they pay the umps before this? Must have been incorrect calls through the ages, but than a call could be differed with, but no review, only a manager (see the late Billy Martin or Lou Piniella or Earl Weaver) tossing home plate to spite the umpires or even pulling up one of the other bases to throw, or even kicking dirt, usually at the home plate ump.

This is what occurs after an umpire raises his arm and ejects the individual or individuals. At least it was a show, now it’s toned down because of the reviews, which just takes up more time and evens up the new 20-second rules.

Just play the game and stop trying to slow down our National Pastime. It’s discussed every year and they still pitch, hit, run, throw, field, argue, and brawl. “Batter up” are still the magic words.

Softball is different. The girls play seven innings. They have a mercy-rule, either 8 or 10-run leads will have a contest called. There’s a loser, but avoids getting embarrassed as the score mounts. Fast pitch has obviously replaced the arch throw that slowed the game down, and its mercy from Little League to the colleges, to the professionals.

Not all softball is like this. The men who play with the arch have a hit parade that makes for high-scoring longer games. But Little League baseball doesn’t because it also applies the mercy rule.

No way to speed up harness or horse racing that operate on a time basis, with each race going off at the time it was scheduled. Same with swimming,

gymnastics, boxing, tennis, ice hockey, track and field, even marathons where everybody crosses the finish line regardless the time.

Only injuries can affect these events, and that happens in every sport, even table tennis. Imagine informing an injured athlete to recover quickly so that the event can continue?

There, just a look at the ridiculous money paid the NBA players. It ranks way ahead of what baseball, football and hockey players make. The NFL, in fact, pays the lowest, and you can take that to the bank. The economy? Owners don’t care, they just want to pay more and win more, while fans pay plenty for seats, any seats.

We are just a country with more sports than any other country, not even close, so these athletes can’t complain about being in the right place at the right time. Just take the money and have a ball.

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