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Kobe Bryant says elite players like LeBron, himself are underpaid. He’s right.

Aug 23, 2014, 2:45 PM EST

Kobe Bryant Kobe Bryant

Kobe Bryant is right.

But it’s also an argument that’s hard to win.

I’ve heard estimates from people around the Lakers that Kobe likely generates $70 million for the team when you consider the seats and suites he fills, with the sponsors that come to the Lakers because they want to be associated with him and the team he plays for. Yet he takes a lot of grief for the two-year $48.5 million contract extension he signed.

Kobe doesn’t think that salary cap system limiting max contracts is fair. He told that to Sports Illustrated’s Chris Ballard (who did the big cover story profile of Kobe for SI).

He also doesn’t think it’s fair players are pressured to take less so the team can win.

My thoughts.

• Kobe’s right, but you can’t win the argument, at least not with most fans. The problem is we can’t relate to the money involved — Kobe has made nearly $280 million over his career in salary alone, and that’s before this deal (and not counting endorsements, shoe deals, etc). You can be intellectually right that he doesn’t make even half of what he brings in to the organization, but you run into the “how much does a policeman make?” argument. Kobe plays a game — very well over his career, but it’s a game. Entertainers are overpaid in general in our society, maybe not in comparison to what they bring in, but it’s hard to feel sympathy for NBA players complaining about the size of their paychecks.

• Kobe’s contract still hamstrings the Lakers the next couple years. Lakers defenders don’t want to admit it, but it does. The Lakers struggle to attract top free agents like Carmelo Anthony because even if they sign him to a max deal they would have little other ability to upgrade the roster. Is it fair to Dirk Nowitzki and Tim Duncan they had to take late career paycuts to help their team attract talent? No. But they did and those teams are much the better for it.

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