The Kevin Love saga showcases the awkward business structure of the NBA

“Screw you, I have more money than you.”

Have you ever said that your boss?

Probably not, because the general structure of any company would dictate that superiors be paid more than their subordinates. Except in professional sports, where players are both employees and the products which consumers pay for. Therefore, as employees of billion-dollar corporations, they’re compensated far more significantly than us unathletic and unskilled members of the regular workforce.

An NBA basketball game is to the NBA as a bottle of shampoo is to those big consumer corporations. An NBA player is the actual shampoo, but is also an employee. If shampoo were alive and moving, it would be getting paid a whole lot too. Shampoo isn’t though, but Kevin Love is.

In a recent report from The Athletic, the Love has been reportedly having “emotional verbal outbursts” due to his “displeasure and disgust with the organization.”

The same report of The Athletic also says that when Cleveland Cavaliers General Manager Koby Altman, Love’s actual boss, threatened to fine him in the past, he responded by saying, “Go ahead. I have plenty of money.”

Love isn’t lying — a $1,000 fine is chump change for someone signed to a four-year, $120 million-dollar contract. But the larger story here is that he had the audacity to call it out to his superior, who makes significantly less than him, at around just 1% of his total contract.

Money talks.

Photo from Getty Images

To be clear, it’s understandable why Love would be so frustrated. The Cavs have not only been horrible this season on the court (10-27), but have also not seen much promise from recent lottery picks in Collin Sexton and Darius Garland. There were also reports in December that players were beginning to drown out first year head coach John Beilein, a hire of the current Cavs front office.

However, the polarizing issue lies in the fact that Love is acting out despite having willingly signed to a contract with the Cavaliers. A lot have also argued that he was cognizant of the Cavs’ direction to rebuild prior to signing his contract, meaning that his diva actions are even more unjustifiable in these tough times.

Yet these judgements are made without truly knowing what’s going on behind the scenes. Who are we to put down Love when we are likewise regular employees that have more than once had to swallow pent-up anger at work?

The difference between our situation as regular employees and Love’s as an NBA player, that he has the audacity that comes from having a lot more zeros on his paycheck. The money gives him enough affirmation to stand up to the people who gave him his contract. It’s fueled even more because of the fact that he was an integral part of the franchise’s first title just four seasons ago.

It’s easy to argue that this dynamic is faced by all teams and players around the league, and it’s especially seen in this player empowerment era. The league’s best players such as LeBron James and Steph Curry surely have massive influences towards every decision made by their front office. Even a Tier 2 star like Damian Lillard, who this past off-season signed a massive 4-year, $196 million-dollar contract, definitely has a similar type of hold over a team that he’s literally employed by.

However, what makes the Love situation different involves his overall value as a basketball player. LeBron, Steph and Lillard are all talents that can elevate teams to contender status. On the other hand, Love, while a five-time All-Star and two-time All-NBA player, is also a defensive liability and has been plagued with injuries throughout his tenure in Cleveland. His albatross deal will also hamper a franchise’s salary cap until 2023, and the return on investment may not be enough for a player already on the wrong side of 30.

Photo from Getty Images

That all explains why the Cavs and Love are at this stalemate. Cavs owner Dan Gilbert alongside Altman have to weigh the return they could receive in trading an asset whose value is at its weakest versus the toxicity brought about by an unhappy employee. The longer they take to make their decision, the more likely the poison will spread. At the same time, extending their window does also give them opportunity to see more offers for their disgruntled semi-star.

There really may not be a clearcut right or wrong answer to this business case for the Cavs. Neither is there really outright justification for or against Love’s frustration and subsequent actions (although some of his actions have crossed the line of professionalism, and he’s since acknowledged that).

But this situation shows just how unique the work structure of any professional sports team is and how it could lead to extremely awkward situations amongst colleagues. Perhaps most importantly, it shows that money does not always buy happiness. In Love’s case though, money apparently buys more “confidence” to speak out.

Let’s go with that. I don’t want to disrespect Love too much; I don’t have that kind of money.


Shoutout to my bosses at work, Bea and J-Anne, whom I truly love and have legitimately never felt the above mentioned frustrations about.