Saturday, August 20, 2011

Kobe Bryant helps laid off Lakers employees

Source : Kelly Dwyer Yahoo Sports
Since pro athletes began earning millions of dollars for a season's work, the idea of a "playoff bonus" seems almost quaint. The reward for making the playoffs, or even winning a series or two, numbers in the tens of thousands; but when you're potentially making eight figures a year those bonuses hardly seem like a big deal.
To regular schmos, though, that cash can go a long way. And the Los Angeles Lakers players, with Kobe Bryant(notes) and Luke Walton(notes) leading the charge, made sure the bonuses from last season's disappointing playoff run went into the hands of the Lakers that needed it most. Namely, two video coordinators who were laid off by the Lakers as soon as the lockout started.

The Los Angeles Times has the scoop:

    Kobe Bryant insisted on giving some of the team's playoff bonus to two members of the Lakers' video department whose contracts were not renewed after the season. Chris Bodaken and Patrick O'Keefe split about $65,000 of the Lakers' playoff bonus.

    Bodaken started with the Lakers as a ball boy in 1986 and spent the last 10 seasons as their director of video services. O'Keefe was the Lakers' video coordinator for six seasons. They both hope to be re-hired by the team when the NBA lockout ends. For now, they are thankful for Bryant's financial gesture.

    "He always looks out for people who are lower on the totem pole," O'Keefe said.

The article goes on to point out that Walton gave an undisclosed amount to the teams' training staff, and that the Lakers have laid off 20 employees since the season ended. Most could be re-hired once the NBA lockout ends, but chalk up another 20 casualties of a lockout that shows no sign of ending.

The Lakers are under no obligation to pay for team employees to work over the offseason. They're also under no such obligation to pay employees during a spell where teams are precluded from even speaking or emailing or even tweeting with their players. Team employees are almost scared to make eye contact with players, much less help a backup small forward work on his knee rehab over the summer.

This goes well beyond a famous general manager having a round of golf with his highest-paid player. Earlier this month we heard of a ridiculous but true story about a low-level Orlando Magic employee that had to silently dash out of a convenience store after co-worker Dwight Howard(notes) strolled in, with Howard essentially giving the team employee the "seriously?" shrugged-shoulders look in response. It wasn't her fault, and she wasn't being rude. It's just the letter of the law, these days. It's that ridiculous.

With those rules in place, though, let's not pretend like the Lakers are a typical case. They had a massive payroll last season, including former coach Phil Jackson, and yet only made it to the second round. Still, the then-defending champs were massively profitable, and they recently signed a local TV deal that could earn the team potential billions over the course of the run. Should the NBA cancel the 2011-12 season, the Lakers will still take in guaranteed national TV money, without having to pay a dime to the team's players.

That's a long way of saying that they could certainly afford to keep those 20 employees on, even if they're under no obligation to.

The Laker players, most notably Bryant and Walton, clearly felt some obligation. Good for them.

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