So it's no surprise Michael Heisley, owner of the small-market Memphis Grizzlies, is campaigning for the NBA to have revenue sharing in its next collective bargaining agreement. What is a surprise is how blunt he is about it.
"We're not Los Angeles where we spend like the Lakers,'' Heisley said in a phone interview with FanHouse. "Kobe (Bryant) and Pau Gasol make as much as our whole basketball team. If there is anything that is sick in the NBA, it's that it could be going the way of the Harlem Globetrotters against the Washington Generals, where you can spend $45 million on two players.
"They don't use revenue sharing in this league. If they want small-market teams to compete, you have to find another way. You have to hit the jackpot and get LeBron James (as Cleveland did in the 2003 draft). Then you have to surround him with players, and you have a $100 million payroll and you don't make money.''
Bryant ($23.03 million) and Gasol ($17.45) are actually combining to make $40.48 million this season compared to Memphis' payroll of $54.42 million, but contract extensions handed out recently eventually will get the two to the level Heisley mentioned. Cleveland will pay out about $100 million, including luxury tax.
Heisley said he wasn't criticizing the Lakers, but pointing out what he believes are realities in the current economy for a small-market team.
"It's very difficult to match some of these salaries we have in the NBA that are out of line,'' Heisley said. "It's very difficult when your local television revenue is a fraction of what they get in L.A. In L.A., they probably get as much for local TV as we get for total revenue.
"The NBA needs revenue sharing. It helped straighten out Major League Baseball, and it makes the NFL such a profitable business. How would you have some of the teams that win in the NFL if they didn't have revenue sharing?''
Well, revenue sharing might soon be on the way for the NBA. During his state-of-the-league address at February's All-Star Game in Dallas, commissioner David Stern made it clear he wants it to be part of the next collective bargaining agreement after the current one expires June 30, 2011.
"I'm determined to actually change the revenue sharing model in the NBA, as well, but we can't do it until we complete the negotiations,'' Stern said, who said the NBA expects to lose $400 million this season. "But our goal for our teams, our players, but particularly our fans, is to come up with a model that says that every NBA team can compete.
"We understand the difficulties that the current economic environment and other things, market size and the like, put on teams. But when we get to where we need to get to, there will be a very robust revenue sharing where teams will not be in a position to decline to compete because of money.''
Many thought that might have been the case with the Grizzlies when they traded Gasol and his big contract Feb. 1, 2008 in a deal that initially looked like a giveaway. But the Grizzlies did get Gasol's brother, Marc Gasol, in the swap, and he's been a pleasant surprise.
The money cleared by dispatching Pau Gasol eventually was used to acquire Randolph, who resurrected his career this season and became an All-Star. Randolph, making $16 million this season and $17.33 million next season, has told FanHouse he will seek a contract extension this summer worth a similar amount to the $57 million over three years Pau Gasol got last December.
"We won't lose money,'' Heisley said of this season's Memphis team, which is 40-41 entering Wednesday's finale, a huge improvement from last season's 24-58. "We've very frugal and we were very fortunate when we broke up the team (primarily with the Pau Gasol trade), and we got Zach (and several top young players). Our (top) four (players in Randolph, Gay, Mayo and Marc Gasol) are possibly as good as anybody's in the NBA, but we don't have a good second team.''
Heisley has accumulated his fortune by purchasing failing companies and making them profitable. Heisley, who bought a Grizzlies outfit in 2000 that still hasn't won a playoff game in 15 seasons in Vancouver and Memphis, is still trying to get the team going.
"Sooner or later, we might have to go into the red in this market to win a championship,'' said the Chicago businessman. "But I'm committed to do what we have to do if we've got a chance (at a title) ... I have straightened out a lot of broken companies, but I have never done anything as hard as to try to win an NBA championship.''
If the NBA implements a revenue-sharing plans, it sounds as if it could become easier for Heisley.
Chris Tomasson can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter@christomasson