I share this story at the risk of perpetuating an already well-established stereotype of NBA players.
But this image of James Harden popping bottles is too good to ignore.
In a story examining how clubs have become dependent on marked up bottles of liquor, Harden, of all people, somehow manages to become the face of the story.
On a recent Thursday night in Hollywood, NBA player James Harden was holding court, but there wasn’t a basketball in sight. The second-string guard for the Oklahoma City Thunder was partying at Roxbury, celebrating his 22nd birthday with several hundred of his closest friends. Jammed into a circular corner booth with roughly 40 others, Harden took swigs from a bottle of Patron as hip-hop music blasted and leggy ladies in short dresses filled the dance floor. The $13,000 moment came when a parade of runway-ready “bottle servers” sashayed toward his table carrying his order of 22 bottles of Moet & Chandon.”
You gotta love that image.
Harden knocking back patron bombs straight from the bottle. Then deciding, ‘Wait, that’s not enough! Let’s get 22 bottles of Moet because, you know, I’m 22.”
Ah, to be young and rich.
All jokes aside, this story of Harden splurging on a good time comes at a time when the NBA’s image is sliding down a slippery slope. The league is in the middle of a 4 1/2 month-long lockout that has wiped out games. And the brunt of the backlash will land at the feet of the 450 or so players, many of whom already are labeled by some as selfish, arrogant athletes. Now along comes this tale. It serves as both a clear cut example of the financial choices some NBA players make, while also verifying the negative view some observers have of the league’s players.
Here Harden is, barely old enough to drink, buying bottles of Moet at $590 a pop. It’s that kind of lifestyle that ordinary Americans see but never will experience. It’s that kind of lifestyle that fosters resentment, especially in this downtrodden economy. It’s that kind of lifestyle that has made casual fans unable to comprehend why this lockout is lingering or what it’s even about.
Meanwhile, those 22 bottles of Moet are a small representation of “The Lifestyle.” It’s something most fans not only never will get to experience, but also don’t seem to understand.
There are two popular misconceptions during this lockout: 1) that the players are asking for more money (they’re not; they’re simply trying to maintain much of what they already earn based on previous negotiations), and 2) that players should be OK with taking a pay cut because they’d still be millionaires. You know how that second line of logic goes. How many times have you heard, or even said, something to the effect of “What can you do with $15 million that you can’t do with $10 million?”
I don’t pretend to know the answer to that. And I’m not sitting here saying that a player can’t live comfortably off of a few less millions. But what I do know is that when you make $20 million, you live a $20 million lifestyle. And when you make $20,000, you live a $20,000 lifestyle. James Harden is slated to make slightly more than $4.6 million next season. From the sound of it, he lives like he makes $4.6 million. But if Harden’s salary dipped to, say, $2.3 million, you can bet a lot of things would change. It’s like an average Joe going from a $50,000 a year salary to a $40,000 a year salary. The only difference is a few zeros.
But rarely do we understand millionaires fighting for fair compensation. It’s beyond our grasp. And the reason is clear — there are NBA stars who make more in a year than most of us will generate in our lifetime. We tend to think they ought to be well off. No matter what. Never mind the taxes that are taken off the top, and the agent fees, and the family obligations and the investments, and, yes, “The Lifestyle.”
Sure, the lifestyle is a decision, and maybe even a poor one. If an NBA player blows through his stacks on strippers and booze and jewelry and cars, shame on him. But so what. That’s beside the point. The point is, who are we to say how someone should or shouldn’t spend their money? Especially since the vast majority of us know nothing about life in that tax bracket.