Imagine if Madison Bumgarner happened to care more about his financial portfolio than his quarter horses. Imagine if Stephen Curry did the metrics, grasped his status as America’s most evolutionary and popular athlete and announced he wanted to be paid as such.
You wouldn’t hear a hint of protest from the masses, even as health care in this country plummets to third-world levels, even as sports contracts never have been more absurdly disproportionate to the salaries of teachers, police officers and first responders. That’s because somehow, in the context of market value in their respective multi-billion-dollar industries, both men are grossly underpaid.
Yet what’s beautiful about these two local treasures — and why the Giants and Warriors enjoy immaculate chemistry within their ongoing championship cultures — is that neither megastar has uttered a peep to that effect. Curry is keeping the faith that in 17 months, when the NBA’s salary cap is pushing $110 million, he’ll be rewarded with the largest-ever basketball contract by Warriors owner Joe Lacob for, oh, I don’t know, transforming a dormant franchise into a working model for all pro sports, winning a championship and Most Valuable Player award, gunning now for the most successful season in league history, creating momentum for a San Francisco arena and, with his family image and genuinely humble manner, restoring our confidence in athletes as good people.
“Every day, I feel blessed to have what I have,” Curry said.
He should have more, much more.
As for Bumgarner, you hope the Giants won’t make him wait too much longer for a powerhouse extension, knowing his contract is comically obsolete in the paradigm of their own starting rotation and the market value of major league pitchers. When Zack Greinke, who never has pitched in a World Series much less hog-tied one like MadBum, can command $206.5 million for six seasons from the Arizona Diamondbacks, it’s hard to justify keeping Bumgarner on a $35.56 million deal that doesn’t expire, after two club-controlled option years, until 2019.
“Hopefully, if everything goes the way I want it to go and what I work for, that will come along in due time,” Bumgarner said. “I’m not at all worried about that.”
Their contentment is not to be taken for granted. Most superstars, in sports and the business world, would be raising holy hell and not caring how it disrupted the workplace. Lacob and Giants boss Larry Baer should wake up each day feeling fortunate — and it might be nice, every so often, to hear them say so publicly. Kanye West may be wacko right now, but he did put Curry in a tweet that summarizes his proper place in hoops life: “I am the Jordan and Steph Curry of music, meaning I’m the best of 2 generations.” But rather than reply, “Darn, right,” or something of the sort, Curry was typically modest.
“I’ve seen a lot of his crazy and outlandish tweets, especially in the past month,” he said, “and then when I saw my name cross through his fingertips, that was, one, pretty funny and honoring at the same time, but then also very weird that he put me in the same conversation as Michael and Kanye.”
Know what else Jordan and Curry have in common? In the 1990s, when Jordan was still playing on a woefully outdated eight-year deal worth $24 million, he didn’t complain, either, about a greedy boss, Jerry Reinsdorf, who refused to redo the contract despite public pressure. Like Jordan, Curry realizes he signed on the bottom line and has to honor the contract without brooding. In the end, we have more respect for them because they remained hush when they’ve had every reason to yelp.
Back when Curry’s ankles were mush and threatening to end his career prematurely, he signed a four-year, $44 million extension. It currently makes him the fifth highest-paid player on his own team and the league’s 54th-highest-paid player as he blossoms into a booming worldwide icon. All of which seems disjointed while he carves new streams for a flourishing NBA economy, attracting wide-ranging demographics to a sport that was starting to flatline with the same old Kobe/LeBron/Spurs angles. By the time his deal expires and free agency arrives, Curry could have three championships, three MVP trophies and interplanetary domination.
In the same year, 2012, back when he was a country kid with a six-syllable name coming off a 13-13 season, Bumgarner signed a five-year contract that gave him instant financial security at age 22. But it also gave the Giants potential control for seven seasons, with two $12 million club options tacked on. It currently makes him the fifth-highest-paid starting pitcher in a rotation in which the ballclub has committed $371.5 million to the other four — including $130 million to Johnny Cueto, $127.5 to Matt Cain and $90 million to Jeff Samardzija. Just 16 months ago, no athlete of our time seemed more Herculean than MadBum when he lifted a team and city onto his whippet left arm and gave Major League Baseball its newest marketable character. Yet, if the Giants wanted, they could hold him to the contract four more seasons, during which he could amass wondrous totals for victories, innings pitched and, for all we know, more postseason gruntwork.
When he reported to camp the other day in Scottsdale, the media were looking for signs of disgruntlement. His only gripe was that his horse trailer broke down somewhere between rural North Carolina and the Arizona desert. That Cueto and Samardzija, neither pitcher on his pedigree scale, received a combined $220 million in the offseason only thrilled him in ramping up the team’s World Series hopes.
“I’m super excited and extremely happy for them,” Bumgarner said. “Samardzija, we’ve seen what he can do. He had a rough year last year, but I would never bet on that happening again. I was hoping we’d sign him. And Cueto, everybody’s seen what kind of pitcher he’s been for the Reds and Royals.”
But what about their contracts compared to his? Isn’t something, uh, ass-backwards here?
“When I signed my deal, that’s what I wanted to do,” Bumgarner said. “You never know what’s going to happen. I was just prepared for that. If we’re having this conversation, it means I did good. If everybody was talking, ‘They overpaid this guy when he only had a year in the big-leagues,’ then obviously I didn’t. So it’s a good thing you’re asking these questions.”
One may ask: Why is it such a crime that they’re underpaid when they’re both multimillionaires with plenty of endorsements? Answer: the risk of serious injuries. If Curry breaks an ankle next week or Bumgarner blows out a shoulder in April, those long-term estimates of $250 million for Curry and $200 million for Bumgarner are on pause. And considering the maniacal way in which both compete, all season, that’s a legitimate concern. The Warriors have been careful with Curry’s minutes. The Giants have not been careful about MadBum’s innings, as if he’s some kind of Sasquatch creature and not a human being.
Lacob has made it known he’ll pull up the Brinks truck to Curry’s Walnut Creek home. Yet the Warriors continue to make noises that they’ll pursue Kevin Durant this summer, which would be foolish not only in how it might disrupt a perfect blend but how it would give another whopper deal to someone not named Steph Curry.
The Giants have the resources to pay Bumgarner now, but after spending $251 million this winter on two pitchers and Denard Span, the money people might not be in the mood for another monster expenditure so soon.
“There will be a time when it’s right and Madison and his agent will want to approach this,” general manager Bobby Evans told KNBR. “I don’t know exactly when that will be. From talking to them, I don’t suspect that it will be any time this season. Maybe in the offseason, maybe early next year. … I just don’t know. I think that they know there’s openness on our end to talk about it at the right time.”
Meanwhile, the two biggest bargains in professional sports history carry on, 15 miles apart, amplifying selfless legacies by staying quiet about the most destructive device in sports: the almighty dollar. The peace almost seems too good to be true.
Jay Mariotti is sports director and lead sports columnist at the San Francisco Examiner. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read his website at jaymariotti.com.