The NBA announced an extensive multiyear partnership agreement between the D-League and a popular sports drink company this morning, which will see the popular sports drink company’s logo on all basketballs, jerseys, and court side signage, as well as the league being renamed for the 2017-18 season to incorporate the popular sports drink company’s name.
While announcing a deal surely worth millions, the NBA curiously neglected to also announce raises for the hundreds of D-Leaguers who make minimum wage-equivalent salaries, and will soon become walking billboards for a popular sports drink company worth billions of dollars.
Each D-League team has a salary cap of $209,000, with a roster limit of 12. D-Leaguers sign one-year contracts with the league, and receive one of two salaries: $26,000 or $19,500. Each team may only have up to five players with the $26,000 “A-level” contracts, meaning the majority of players make $19,500. That’s actually an improvement, as until this season, the majority of players made just $13,000. The federal poverty level for single person households is $12,050.
The NBA, obviously, has the money to pay all D-Leaguers living wages, but despite skyrocketing revenue in recent years, seems unwilling to do so. There were hopes that the recently agreed upon Collective Bargaining Agreement extension would address D-League salaries, but the only provision that does so is the introduction of “two-way” contracts that would pay two players per team between $50,000 and $75,000, and may not actually be all that good for them.
The NBA wants the D-League to be a laboratory for the next generation of coaches, front-office executives, and referees, and for the best non-NBA players in the world to ply their trade in the D-League and earn a call-up. And they’ve taken a number of strides in that direction, most significantly with 25 NBA teams now owning or having a one-to-one affiliation with a D-League team; soon that number will hit 30. But as long as basketball players can earn significantly more money playing in a dozen or more European countries, they will do so.
None of this is very surprising, exactly. Once upon a time, professional athletes across all sports also weren’t paid living wages, and future Hall of Famers and end-of-the-roster scrubs alike had to work offseason jobs. To simplify the story of many long and hard-fought battles, players banded together against owners for higher wages, and won. Perhaps it’s time for D-Leaguers to do the same.