Wilken’s debut novel offers an intriguing solution to the greed and inflated salaries marring the popularity of professional sports.
James Mitchum IV owns the Houston Tornadoes, a fictional NBA team. Disgruntled with some players’ me-first attitudes, Mitchum presents a radical idea to his fellow owners: instead of competing with each other to pay spiraling salaries, band together and offer set salaries to players in that year’s draft class—salaries just above the minimum specified in the collective bargaining agreement with the players’ union; then use the savings to improve teachers’ salaries across the country and lower ticket prices, so more fans can afford to attend games. As Mitchum later explains to a gathering of rookie players: “No one will be paid because they were a high performer in college. You have to perform with the big boys to get the big salaries.” Wilken deftly covers this issue from all angles, as the rest of the slim volume covers the fallout of the owners’ agreement, with reactions from the rookies—whether entitled, poor or international—their self-absorbed agents, the players’ union, and the media, along with input from the players’ friends and families. Some of the rookies rightly come off as whiny, such as Tyson Williams, the No. 4 draft choice from an upper-middle-class background: “Dad, they are offering me a measly $700,000 a year for three years with no sign-on bonus.” His father wisely responds, “Ty, how can you use the word MEASLY when referring to a $700,000 salary?” Most of the characters—quite a few of whom serve as a Greek chorus representing a fed-up, underpaid public—are one-dimensional, particularly the poor Latino player, the loudmouthed agent, and the ambitious sportscaster. That shallowness lessens the impact of a promising concept. And in our professional sports world, filled with win-at-any-cost owners unlikely to cooperate, this novel unfortunately will remain a well-meaning fairy tale.
A well-thought-out blueprint for fixing a major
problem in professional sports that, alas, will likely be benched by the
reality of owners wanting more dollars than sense.