The easiest thing NBA owners can do during the coronavirus outbreak is pay their employees.
Every NBA franchise is valued at more than $1 billion, and teams are owned by individuals or groups of people worth many more billions. The salaries owed to players, coaches and front-office employees for the 2019-20 season, even if it is completely canceled, are relatively small change, let alone the lesser-paid support staff and hourly rates for arena workers and part-time employees.
Philadelphia 76ers owner Josh Harris, whose estimated net worth approaches $4 billion, reversed course on Tuesday after reports indicated he had asked his team’s 1,500 employees to take a 20 percent pay cut during the league’s suspension. He will pay them in full after facing public pressure.
“I apologize for getting this wrong,” Harris said in a statement.
That every NBA owner has not followed suit is astonishing. In a time of unprecedented uncertainty, billionaires have the easiest of opportunities to show their worth for good. All it takes is pledging a fraction of a percentage of their assets to the people who have helped them build that considerable wealth. It would be disheartening if every billion-dollar company did not commit to do the same.
Every NBA ownership group has at least pledged some funds to their arena employees, mostly after players took the initiative by donating hundreds of thousands of dollars to workers in need. This is not good enough. Every employee requiring support should be paid in full during the hiatus.
The following is a complete list of NBA ownership groups and what they have pledged to workers.
NBA owners who made a full commitment
Tony Ressler, Atlanta Hawks: He was among the first owners to pledge full financial support of his staff, telling the Atlanta Journal-Constitution at the onset of the hiatus, “We have a pretty clear set of priorities in this kind of remarkable time that we’re living through: Protecting our fans, protecting our employees, and protecting the reputation of our league, all of which is important, but let there be no confusion, that means taking care of all of our employees, our full-time, our part-time.”
Dan Gilbert, Cleveland Cavaliers: The Cavs vowed to compensate all hourly and event staff for all missed games in addition to Gilbert’s charitable efforts in Cleveland and Detroit communities during the pandemic. Cavs star Kevin Love also pledged $100,000 to support staff and arena workers.
Mark Cuban, Dallas Mavericks: He was on national TV pledging full support of his employees as soon as word of the NBA shutdown came during a Mavericks game. He has since expanded that pledge to creating additional jobs, offsetting daycare costs for healthcare workers and reimbursing employees who eat at locally owned independent restaurants. This should be the standard.
Tom Gores, Detroit Pistons: The Pistons do not own Little Caesars Arena, but Gores pledged to pay all his team’s employees during the hiatus, according to the Detroit Free Press. Detroit Red Wings owner Marian Ilitch, whose company owns the arena, made a less substantial commitment, establishing “a $1 million fund to cover one month’s wages for our part-time staff.”
Tilman Fertitta, Houston Rockets: Despite concerns about the financial hit he had already taken in China and will surely take as the sole owner of a billions-dollar restaurant corporation, according to ESPN, Fertitta plans to “take care of” all team employees, according to the Houston Chronicle.
Robert Pera, Memphis Grizzlies: As soon as the NBA announced its suspension, Pera communicated that affected employees would continue to be paid throughout the work stoppage, according to the Daily Memphian. Levy Restaurants is responsible for paying arena employees.
Mickey Arison, Miami Heat: The team announced plans not only to pay its own part-time employees during the stoppage, but those of their business partners in concessions, security and housekeeping, according to the Miami Herald. The pledge also includes an additional $1 million donation to cover additional needs for employees that are sure to arise in the coming months.
Gayle Benson, New Orleans Pelicans: After rookie Zion Williamson pledged to cover the salaries of all Smoothie King Center employees for 30 days during the pandemic, the team’s billionaire owner followed suit, guaranteeing all lost wages for all game-day employees, according to ESPN. Benson will also contribute relief funds to arena workers, local “gig workers” and area restaurants.
Josh Harris, Philadelphia 76ers: He committed to paying his staff in full after facing public pressure for asking employees to take a 20 percent pay cut during the suspension of the league.
NBA owners who made commitments ... to a point
Wyc Grousbeck, Boston Celtics: Much of TD Garden’s staff falls under the purview of the Boston Bruins, who own the building, but the Celtics have reportedly committed to paying part-time game-night employees through the end of the regular season, which comprises nine scheduled games.
Jerry Reinsdorf, Chicago Bulls: Along with Blackhawks owner Rocky Wirtz, Reinsdorf pledged to “pay day-of-game employees through the remainder of the originally scheduled season.”
Stan Kroenke, Denver Nuggets: Kroenke Sports and Entertainment, owners of both the Nuggets and Avalanche, pledged to pay part-time and hourly employees for at least the next 30 days.
Jeanie Buss, Los Angeles Lakers: Along with the Clippers and NHL’s Kings, the Lakers established a fund to cover lost wages for Staples Center employees through the end of the regular season. The Lakers are valued at more than $4 billion. This fund should be fully compensatory.
Steve Ballmer, Los Angeles Clippers: The league’s richest owner is also part of the fund for Staples Center employees. Given his donations elsewhere during the pandemic — to community groups, L.A. schools and those impacted by COVID-19 in his native Seattle area — it would be hard to imagine Ballmer not paying all of his employees in full during the hiatus, but no official word yet.
Robert Sarver, Phoenix Suns: The team announced that all part-time staff and hourly workers of the Suns and Talking Stick Resort Arena will be paid for events scheduled until the end of March. Arizona Sports’ John Gambadaro reported that Sarver’s pledge will be extended to all employees throughout the work stoppage, although the team has yet to publicly confirm. The Suns have also pledged to match Devin Booker’s $100,000 charitable donation to the Phoenix community.
Ted Leonsis, Washington Wizards: Capital One Arena workers were informed they would be paid for all unplayed Wizards home games through the end of March, per The Athletic’s Tarik El-Bashir.
Vivek Ranadive, Sacramento Kings: “All part-time, hourly Kings event team members will be compensated for the shifts they were previously scheduled to work in March,” the team said.
NBA owners who committed a finite amount
Michael Jordan, Charlotte Hornets: In conjunction with his players, Jordan set up a fund to provide financial assistance to roughly 500 part-time employees, according to the Charlotte Observer. The contribution and nature of the donation were not included in the announcement.
Joe Lacob, Golden State Warriors: The team’s ownership, coaches and players combined for a tax-free $1 million donation to aid out-of-work arena employees during the pandemic, according to The Mercury News. They also created a community fund for citizens to contribute to their unpaid employees. The Warriors are one of three NBA teams valued at more than $4 billion, and Lacob is worth an estimated $3 billion. That he did not foot the entire bill immediately is a wonder.
Herb Simon, Indiana Pacers: He has provided “financial aid” to part-time employees at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, according to The Athletic’s Bob Kravitz, although the amount has gone unreported.
Marc Lasry, Milwaukee Bucks: After MVP favorite Giannis Antetokounmpo pledged $100,000 in relief funds for Fiserv Forum staff, ownership vowed to “match all Bucks player donations to part-time arena workers.” Lamenting the financial impact on the league, Lasry told Bleacher Report’s Howard Beck, “I mean, there’s a lot of people where it’s going to have some major impacts.”
Glen Taylor, Minnesota Timberwolves: The billionaire pledged a $1 million relief fund “to alleviate financial concern” for part-time employees of the Timberwolves and Lynx working games at Target Center, according to the Star Tribune. That does not appear to extend to employees of the arena.
Clay Bennett, Oklahoma City Thunder: Bennett pledged indeterminate “financial assistance” to part-time Thunder staff and arena workers for the seven remaining home games on their schedule.
Richard DeVos, Orlando Magic: The uber-wealthy DeVos family pledged $2 million in relief for approximately 1,800 hourly employees of the Magic, Amway Center, Lakeland Magic and Orlando Solar Bears through the end of the regular season. Magic players have also donated to the fund. The team’s CEO, Alex Martins, said all impacted employees would be “fairly compensated.”
Jody Allen, Portland Trail Blazers: Allen announced plans to contribute “more than $1.4 million towards COVID-19 relief efforts,” including game-night staff and part-time Rose Quarter employees for the team’s nine postponed games. She will reportedly reassess her pledge after 30 days.
Peter Holt, San Antonio Spurs: Spurs Sports and Entertainment pledged “over $500,000 that will ensure that the organization’s part-time, non-contract employees will be paid through the end of the regular seasons for both the Spurs and the American Hockey League’s San Antonio Rampage. The press release vaguely quoted Holt saying both full- and part-time employees “will be provided for.”
Gail Miller, Utah Jazz: Following his positive coronavirus test, Jazz star Rudy Gobert pledged $200,000 to the 1,000-plus Vivint Arena employees impacted by the league’s work stoppage. Miller contributed “an undisclosed amount” that will “more than match” Gobert’s donation, per reports. The funds were to be dispersed among impacted workers in their most recent paycheck. The Jazz also reportedly pledged to create temporary part-time work for affected employees and “provide an efficient path toward unemployment funds and services if needed,” according to the Deseret News.
NBA owners yet to announce a compensation plan
James Dolan, New York Knicks: The most valuable franchise in the league is “working on a longer-term plan” to pay impacted Madison Square Garden employees after covering costs in the immediate aftermath, per the New York Post. According to Newsday’s Steve Popper, the Knicks are expected to compensate hourly employees, although Dolan’s ownership of a number of venues has complicated matters. The Knicks have only pledged to pay MSG workers through March 29 and make healthcare contributions for eligible workers, per the New York Daily News’ Stefan Bondy.
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