$100 Million. Check.
$150 Million. Check.
$200 Million. Check.
For four seasons now, Stephen Curry has been blazing away from the three-point line into super stardom. His rise from a borderline star in a middling team to a global phenomenon was unexpected and remains unprecedented.
Last week Curry and the Warriors signed off on a five-year $201 million deal that will keep the megastar in Oakland through till 2022. The contract is the largest in NBA history, exceeding the contract Mike Conley signed last season by nearly $50 million.
The gamble that paid off
Four years ago, the Golden State Warriors took a gamble with the 24-year-old guard.
Curry was talented, but there were doubts. He could pass, but his team had a ball-dominant point guard (Monta Eliis). He could shoot, but the NBA had not yet evolved to the style of game that would best suit his ability. He was crucial on offence but had none of the leadership abilities you would expect from a star. He was the son of a solid NBA role-player, and maybe that was his ceiling.
And then came the injuries.
For all the promise Curry showed on court, his ankles raised questions off it.
Despite two promising seasons, Curry’s ankles would not stay put under him. He injured it on at least five different occasions, starting with the now famous red flag that started it all. The 2011-‘12 season was the worst, with Curry playing just 26 games; not good news for a player looking to sign his first NBA contract extension that offseason.
This is where, the Warriors’ foresight and Curry’s patience paid off.
Curry had shown enough promise on court for the Warriors to take a gamble on him with a $44 million contract for four years. His superstar ability, when healthy, could have earned Curry the maximum contract of $60 million (this was under the old Collective Bargaining Agreement so the max was 25% of the total cap – $15 million per season).
Instead Curry decided to stay loyal to the club that drafted him, buying into the vision of the owners and General Manager and agreeing to a deal that saw him leave more than $15 million on the table.
That agreement turned around both parties’ fates like no one expected. The rest, as they say, is history.
Curry elevated his game to unprecedented levels, firmly etching his name as the greatest shooter in NBA history and leading a home-grown (key players were all drafted) Warriors team to a dream season and their first championship in three decades.
The value of the bargain contract, however, would be significant only three seasons later when the Warriors were able to sign Durant to a near-max contract in one of the biggest moves in NBA history. The signing solidified Warriors’ forces, won them their second championship in three years, and set them for dominance for at least two more seasons.
Where does Curry stand among his peers?
Curry’s contract, makes him the highest-earning NBA player netting him a per season salary climbing from $34 million this season to roughly $45 million in the fifth year of the contract. He marginally beats out LeBron James who stands to make $33 million courtesy his $100-million contract signed last season.
The total value of the contract pales in comparison to the $325-million deal Major League Baseball superstar Giancarlo Stanton received from the Miami Marlins. That contract however was over 13 seasons, netting Stanton just about $25 million per season.
Curry’s contract, though, does puts the NBA firmly ahead of America’s National Football League and National Hockey League. Andrew Luck’s six-year $140 million contract with the Indianapolis Colts leads the pack for American football, while Sidney Crosby’s 12-year $105 million contract with the Pittsburgh Penguins tops it for the men on ice.
Nowhere near Messi and Ronaldo
As fat as his contract is, NBA players are still way behind the kind of pay package global football stars take home. Cristiano Ronaldo’s, 2017’s highest paid athlete, signed a five-year contract last year that will net him nearly $60 million per year.
However, even that figure falls short of the three-year deal that Lionel Messi received this week, earning him a cool $70 million per season.
These football figures, however, include huge renewal bonuses, that run in the tens of millions (reportedly $55 million in Messi’s case), figures that are added pro-rata when calculating the annual salaries of the football stars.
Both the stars, however, play in Spain whose exceptionally high tax rates allow the players to take home a little less than 50% of their total earnings.
This raises the question: How much is Curry worth for the Golden State Warriors?
Joe Lacob picked up the team in 2010 for a meagre $450 million. Seven years later, the team’s value has gone up nearly six times to $2.6 billion. That’s nearly two-thirds of the $3.7 billion valuation given to Real Madrid, the most valuable football team in the world.
Lacob’s business acumen aside, the true face of the Warriors, without a doubt, is Stephen Curry.
Sport fandom is largely fickle, with the most popular teams being recent champions or having the most popular players. With their winning ways and his exceptional play on court, the Warriors and Curry are undoubtedly the world’s most popular NBA brands.
The question, though, about Curry’s value came to light with LeBron James questioning the need for a salary cap in the NBA.
On one hand, the NBA’s salary cap continues to climb on the back of a monster television-rights deal that earns the organisation more than $2.5 billion a year. The cap for 2017-‘18 stands at $99 million, set to break the $100 million mark next season, and in all likelihood will continue to climb during the course of the seven-year term of the NBA-NBPA deal.
On the other hand it would be wise for the NBA to consider raising the cap further, if not entirely eliminate it, to accommodate the global value of NBA stars. An alternative would be to add signing bonuses, much like international football has.
That, though, will be factor of how quickly the NBA’s coffers fill up.
They are already one of, if not the dominant, sports in China with over 300 million people playing the sport, and NBA stars like LeBron James and Allen Iverson worshipped as demigods there. Simply put, Kobe Bryant is more popular than Lionel Messi there. The kind of popularity that allows you to cash on a five-year $700 million media rights deal.
With the NBA’s foray into India, amid hopes that the country will become as big a market as China, the NBA’s global ambitions are clear: it wants to become as popular as, if not more, than football.
When that day arrives, the expectation would be that NBA players earn salaries on par with their European peers.