Shaq is rich; the white man that signs his check is wealthy. Here you go Shaq, go buy yourself a bouncing car. Bling-Bling . . . . I ain’t talking bout Oprah, I’m talking about Bill Gates. OK!. If Bill Gates woke up tomorrow with Oprah’s money, he would jump out a …window. I’m not talking about rich, I’m talking about wealthy—Chris Rock
They Ain’t Wealthy, They Are Rich: Economic Lessons from the NBA Lockout
by David J. Leonard | NewBlackMan
In headline after headline, in commentary after commentary, the NBA lockout has been described as a battle between “millionaires” and “billionaires.” Reductionist in many ways, the effort to construct the lockout as a struggle between two different yet similar parties (the owners are not part 99% although some of the players surely are) reflects a problematic conflation of two distinct groups. In “Why We Can’t Dismiss The NBA Labor Dispute As ‘Millionaires Versus Billionaires,’” Scott Keyes warns against the tendency to link and otherwise obliterate substantive differences between players and owners: “Conflating the two groups as similarly-placed economic royalists, neither of whom deserve sympathy from an American public grappling with a depressed economy, is understandable. But to create an equivalency between millionaire players and billionaire owners obscures a scarier picture regarding the players’ long-term economic prospects.” Discussing the very different long term economic prospects between owners and players, Keyes points to several larger issues at work: the differences between workers and owners, the differences between a salary and an investment, and the very different economic futures of each group.
Yet, one of the more striking aspects of the media coverage and public discussions of the NBA lockout is a continued inability to distinguish between income and wealth. This isn’t surprising given shows Cribs and media focus on player salaries. The danger, however, is quite evident. In a society where, according to a recent study from Brandeis University, black and white wealth inequality has dramatically increased in the 23 years from 1984 to 2007, the failures to distinguish between the wealth of players and owners has a larger context. Accordingly,
The gap between Black and white households ballooned during the 23-year study period, as white families went from a median of about $22,000 in wealth to $100,000 – a gain of $78,000. In the same period, Black household wealth inched up from a base of $2,000 per family to only $5,000. The sweat and toil of an entire generation had netted Black families only $3,000 additional dollars, while white families emerged from the period with a net worth of 100 grand that can be used to send a couple of kids to college, make investments, help out other family members, or contribute to the larger (white) community.
In other words, despite the accumulated income (some wealth) by a handful of African American athletes and entertainers, and a growing black middle-class, black-white wealth disparities have increased and that was before the economic downturn. The NBA lockout offers a window into the larger issues of wealth disparity and power differentials and the ways in which race-based wealth disparities operate in myriad of American institutions. The efforts by the owners to further the disparity in income and wealth, while very different given the salaries of scale, illustrates the level of disparity that defines class and racial inequality in the twenty-first century.