Ask not what your country can do for you. Ask what you can do for your country.
As you know, those are the words of John Fitzgerald Kennedy — a name synonymous, for all of the wrong reasons, with the city I live in.
I was thinking about those words a few minutes ago while listening to my local sports radio station here in Dallas, as the yucksters on The Hardline provided the details of Dirk Nowitzki’s latest contract with the Dallas Mavericks.
Dirk is, of course, another name synonymous with the city I live in — but for all the right reasons.
The remarkable contract he just signed is only the latest example.
And it doesn’t take a sports fan to understand why.
Would you leave $47 million on the table?
Here are the details of Dirk’s contract: three years for $25 million, all guaranteed.
Sweet sassy molassey!, you might be thinking to yourself. Yes, you’re right, that’s a lot of money. Not much of a sacrifice.
And Dirk has made over $200 million during his 16 years playing professional basketball for the Mavericks. He could play for free for the next three years and want for nothing.
But consider his opportunity cost … then place yourself in his massive (literally and figuratively) shoes.
Before signing this contract, Dirk was offered max deals by the Los Angeles Lakers and Houston Rockets. A max deal would have payed Dirk somewhere in the neighborhood of $72 million (if not more) over four years.
So he left somewhere in the neighborhood of $47 million on the table.
Additionally, this contract — for the greatest Mav of all-time and one of the 20 greatest basketball players in the history of the sport — makes Dirk the fourth highest paid player on his own team. Most high achievers in any field would not be able to sublimate their ego enough to swallow that slice of humble pie.
Would you have taken that much less money and status? Especially if you so unequivocally deserved and could have gotten more?
Is Dirk effing crazy!!??
Sometimes you have to sacrifice to win
Here is the reason why Dirk had no choice but to sign a contract so far below market value to make one more legit run at a title …
The NBA and its players association recently signed a new collective bargaining agreement that did a wonderful job of redistributing money from the players back to the owners.
A salary cap combined with oppressive financial penalties for exceeding it means that each team is only willing to spend so much on player salaries. That means that to add better players to field a better team, the stars on each team are often asked to sacrifice in the form of smaller contracts.
LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh did this when they joined the Miami Heat four years ago — each taking less money than they could have made elsewhere. The San Antonio Spurs’ star players, especially Tim Duncan, have been doing this for a number of years. (It’s no coincidence that those two franchises have played in the last two NBA Finals.)
Dirk is nearing 40. He is a first ballot Hall of Famer and has already won one NBA title, but he would like to win another. It’s a shame that the system is set up the way it is, but Dirk knows he needs to sacrifice money to stay in Dallas and compete for another title.
The big German wants his cake and wants to eat it too, and the smaller contract he signed is his fork.
By taking this well-below-market-value contract, the Mavs were able to trade for Tyson Chandler, sign up-and-coming star Chandler Parsons, and round out their bench with useful pieces. Thus, the Mavericks will be seen as a legit darkhorse contender for the title heading into next season — just a notch below the Thunder and Spurs in the Western Conference.
And it’s only possible because Dirk Nowitzki put his desire to win above his desire for money and ego gratification.
Again … would you have done that?
Saying “No” isn’t necessarily the wrong answer. It’s not a sin to earn what you’re worth. But success and happiness are not always measured in dollars and cents.
For Dirk, it’s a short-term sacrifice for what he hopes will be a lifetime gain in fulfillment.
One of a kind
Dirk Nowitzki is special.
What he can do on a basketball court as a 7-footer has never been done before, and is unlikely to ever be replicated. He is a true original — thanks to genetics, an insatiable work ethic, and some of the most dedicated tutoring and mentorship an athlete has ever had.
After Kareem’s skyhook, Dirk’s fadeaway jump shot is perhaps the most unguardable shot in the history of basketball.
But Dirk’s basketball skills are only one small part of what makes him special as a star athlete. It is Dirk’s pride in team achievements over personal accolades, and the humility with which he conducts himself as a member of his team (never bigger than the team), that separate him.
A few players have won more rings than Dirk. And Tim Duncan — what with his five rings, his similarly small current contract, and having also spent his entire career in one city — will surely lead any discussions about humble NBA superstars. But here in Dallas, there is a level of reverence for Nowitzki shared with only one other athlete in the history of the city (Roger Staubach).
And it’s because Dirk has always put his team and his city before himself.
Dirk’s pride is clearly immense. You don’t reach such heights as an athlete without immense pride. But his desire for glory is for team glory, and on-court success means more to him here in Dallas, the only NBA city he’s ever known, than it would anywhere else.
Dirk understands what he means to the people here. And he understands what he means to his franchise. And so he sacrifices where other superstars might not — so that he and his teammates and city brethren might once again experience what so many other teams and cities do not..
What can you do for your team?
We’re all on a team.
Maybe it’s a work team. Maybe you’re an athlete and play on a sports team. At a minimum, you’re part of a family, which is the most important team you ever join.
My call to action today is to think of the spirit of JFK’s words and the primility of Dirk Nowitzki.
Ask not what your team can do for you. Ask what you can do for your team.
If everyone does that, then everyone is working for each other …
And everyone wins.
That’s what Primility is all about.
Flickr Creative Commons Image via Danny Bollinger.