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Yglesias on Lebron

Last week I talked about the Miami Heat advancing to the NBA Finals and the decision of Lebron (plus Wade and Bosh) being largely vindicated. I also mentioned that I didn't fault or bash Lebron for making the decision to leave Cleveland to play in Miami.

Today Matt Yglesias (who you should be reading) points out a few other factors that make Lebron's decision all the more justifiable:

What we’re looking at, essentially, is the case of King James Versus The Cartel. The NBA’s maximum salary rules prevent stellar players like James from earning a market wage. Consequently, LeBron was underpaid in Cleveland, is underpaid in Miami, and would have been underpaid in New York or Chicago. What’s more, the NBA’s draft rules prevent stellar prospects like the 2003 version of LeBron James from choosing which firm they want to work for. If the Lakers wanted to pay him to play basketball and he wanted to play basketball in Los Angeles in exchange for money, he wasn’t allowed. Essentially the only market power a first-rate NBA player has is that (assuming he’s off his rookie deal) he’s allowed to choose which firm will underpay him. The construction of James (and to a lesser extent Chris Bosh) as a traitor to the people of Cleveland (and to a lesser extent Toronto) seeks to normatively stigmatize the exercise of even that freedom. A player should work, indefinitely, at a sub-market wage for whatever team happens to draft him? Why?

Great points. The NBA and other sports associations have drafts so that they can ensure some sort of competitive balance throughout the country. If they let players like Lebron or top prospects in other sports the ability to sign with any team they want out of college or high school there would likely be big imbalances in talent. More players would want to play in Miami and Los Angeles than they would Memphis or Oklahoma City.

We see this in every other job market. The best and highest paid jobs are generally going to be in big cities like NY, LA, and the such. Despite our government's bias towards rural development a lot of people like to like in big cities. Like Lebron, the most talented lawyers, doctors, bankers, etc. want to live in the big cities. As Yglesias says, we don't bash those professionals for moving to those cities. So we shouldn't bash athletes who do it either.