Money Players, by Armen Keteyian, Harvey Araton, and Martin F. Dardis
This is a book that had to feel like it was a fiery expose of the problems of basketball when it was published in the late 1990’s. For those looking at the scandals of basketball during the time before the late-90’s lockout of basketball that followed the retirement of MJ and the desire of owners to gain more money from franchises and control the salaries of players who were frequently disappointing, this book is still a worthwhile read even if it does feel as if it is deliberately written in a sensationalistic way to present the reader with teasing hints at the beginning that are only explored in more detail as the rest of the book goes on. This is a book that seems like it was written just so it could become the basis of an ESPN sports documentary, whether or not it ever enjoyed such a fate, and reading this book so much after the fact, it is remarkable that the material discussed in this book is still current, as the arguments over Michael Jordan’s gambling and the death are discussed here and are still debated over. If that does not make this a pleasant book to read, it certainly shines a light on some dark corners of the sports world.
This book is about 350 pages long or so and and it is divided into 20 chapters. The authors discuss lottery players and where they went and their hype (1), then Stern’s leadership of basketball (2), and their weak drug policy (3) and their labor struggles (4). The authors then turn their attention to discussing the desire on the part of an agent to represent Tim Duncan (5) as he decided whether or not to return to college as a senior, the education of rookie players (6), and the family ties that drew people to make certain decisions about their playing (7). The authors talk about the bad boys of Detroit and their fall from success (8), the rise of the NBA within FIBA (9), the death of MJ’s father (10) as well as his gambling problems (11), and the desire of Joe Smith for media attention on the East Coast (12). The authors then discuss the All-Star game (13), Isaiah Thomas’ shady dealings (14), as well as more gambling by Thomas (15), shenanigans involving college players (16), a discussion of the end of the season (17), as well as the playoffs (18), NBA championship (19), and the offseason that hints at more changes that ended up happening and more foreshadowing and more unhappiness on the part of the book’s more sympathetic characters.
In reading this book I was struck by the sort of various agendas that the authors were trying to push, some of which were in contradiction to others. For example, the authors lament the racism they claim is present in the NBA as a league with mostly black players that is nonetheless seeking the appeal of white (and nonwhite) businessmen as well as mass audiences. Yet while the writers intend for the reader to feel pity for the players, generational changes show the players to be less team-oriented and immature, with ties to organized crime and gambling interests that threaten the integrity of the game for such players as Isaiah Thomas with the Chaldean mafia (something I had never heard of before) as well as Michael Jordan’s more familiar scandals. And the drug scandals and vulnerability of players to exploitation by agents (as happened to Joe Smith) tend to make the players less heroic and a lot more entertainers who sometimes fail to understand their social purpose as entertainers. This book makes basketball less entertaining, and that is probably not for the best.