Is LeBron James' Paycheck Really the 'Sacrifice' He Says It Is?

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Is LeBron James' Paycheck Really the 'Sacrifice' He Says It Is?
Al Bello/Getty Images

In a few words with Brian Windhorst, LeBron James talked about his current contract, mentioning that he's never had a maximum contract in his career, instead sacrificing a few bucks to he could come to the Miami Heat and team up with Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade.

I have not had a full max deal yet in my career -- that's a story untold.

I don’t get (the credit) for it. That doesn’t matter to me; playing the game is what matters to me. Financially, I’ll sacrifice for the team. It shows for some of the top guys, it isn’t all about money. That’s the genuine side of this, it’s about winning. I understand that. 

On the surface, there's no doubt that LeBron sacrificed a few bucks to play with the Heat. He was dealt in a sign-and-trade, so Miami could have still been able to get both he and Bosh under the old NBA Collective Bargaining Agreement.

The only problem there would have been that the Heat would have just under $60 million committed to Wade, James and Bosh this season, and they would have had very little room to stay away from huge luxury tax penalties, squeeze in free agents and pay their old guys.

Instead of the likes of Udonis Haslem, Mario Chalmers and Ray Allen, they likely would have had to add guys at minimum salary-level contracts, which would have them looking a lot more like the 2010-11 incarnation of Miami, rather than the one we see now.

In the end, LeBron definitely sacrificed in that right, as did Wade and Bosh, and the team is better off because of it.

Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

Of course, there are some caveats to LeBron's decision to move to Miami to play basketball.

There is an argument to be made that LeBron is making more off endorsements playing in Miami, but that's not really an argument I'm inclined to buy.

LeBron is one of the NBA's three most recognizable players in a sport that is as popular as any in the world.

On top of that, he plays a sport where the individual is elevated above the team, and he just so happens to be the best individual in the NBA.

It seems to me that he could have easily made the money in endorsements whether he was in Miami, Cleveland, or Gary, Indiana.

To put it another way, LeBron's contract with Nike was up back in 2010, and the shoe company signed him to a huge extension as soon as possible. They didn't wait to see where he was going to sign in the summer, they got his name on the dotted line as quickly as they could draw up the new papers.

The only other argument against the thought of LeBron sacrificing money is that Florida has no state income tax.

If he were to have played in any other state (besides Texas), he would have been forced to pay income tax on his contract, which would mean millions of dollars being taken away from him via taxation.

I suppose there is a bit of a point to be taken there.

Jeff Gross/Getty Images

However, if we are to proscribe to that logic, that means we would have to call Kobe Bryant a sacrificer for playing in California where they have some of the highest tax rates in the nation, even though he's making nearly $28 million this year.

In reality, LeBron is sacrificing money by playing for the Miami Heat, but it's not because of him taking less money to play there as opposed to another team, it's because he's playing basketball in general.

The way the NBA is structured, LeBron would never be able to make what he is truly worth to a team. The maximum contract just doesn't go high enough.

Without a cap on maximum salaries, it's not crazy to think that LeBron could earn upwards of $40 million a year from any team. Of course, it would have to be able to make that up from ticket and jersey sales, along with any other endorsements possible.

Beyond that, the city might even want to pitch in a few bucks for what he does to attendance, and therefore food and alcohol sales at restaurants surrounding arenas.

James is an instant recession killer, even if it is just on 41 nights per year. There's no way he'd ever be able to be adequately paid strictly through salary as an NBA player.

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