The trouble with Jalen Rose has more to do with perception than it has to do with performance.
It is our problem, not necessarily his.
It has become the new public forum for sporting measurement, the strange distortion between size of contract and size of game.
This is the long-term impact salary disclosure has brought to professional sport. Athletes have grown richer and poorer because of it, all at the very same time.
It's no longer about how you play the game but whether you're worth the money you're being paid.
Once upon a time, fantasy sports was about playing general manager with imaginary money. Now, everyone plays along at home, pretending to be GMs, knowing the exact dollar that every major league athlete is paid.
Carlos Delgado lived through that contradiction in Toronto with every ground ball he didn't run out. The slower he trotted towards first the more angry people became about how much he was paid. No matter what he produced, he could never do enough to justify his $19 million U.S. a year -- or the percentage of the Blue Jays payroll he took up
It's the same with Mats Sundin, the highest paid of all Maple Leafs. That he happens to be paid three or four times more than most of his teammates affects the way in which the public views him. The expectations are created by contracts moreso than by play.
Now it's Rose's unfortunate turn in the spotlight, if you can refer to anyone making more than $14 million U.S. a year as unfortunate.
No matter how open minded you are, it's difficult to view Rose in just one context. Not with all the information that's now available. Somehow, you can't see the player without the number. With the expectation established by finance: It used to be about numbers, now it's numbers with dollar signs.
The contract serves as both security and noose for today's athlete. Rose earns more per season than past MVP Tim Duncan is paid or likely MVP Steve Nash makes and no matter what he does, his ability means he cannot surpass them on the court. He may be paid better than Kobe Bryant or Dirk Nowitzki or even Vince Carter but that doesn't make him athletically superior. In fact, Rose is paid more than all but 14 players in the NBA.
Which only tells part of the story but brands him in a way where his game can never match his contract.
In the me-first world of the NBA, Rose arrived in Toronto as a poster-boy for the new generation. He was supposed to be self-absorbed, interested in statistics so long as they were his. Or so the story went.
But in one season and a couple of months in Toronto, most of those presumptions have been dispelled. On a Raptors team fraught with turmoil, Rose has done his job with maturity, calmness and efficiency. He has performed beyond almost any expected levels, both as a starter and coming off the bench. He hasn't made trouble. He hasn't caused problems. It's hard to argue that he hasn't had an admirable season.
Only that's when you stop and the numbers crunch you. Forty-five million for this and two more seasons. Forty-five million?
For Jalen Rose?
It doesn't make dollars or sense. But it's out there, a fact collectively bargained into today's state of professional sport. Conveniently, players wear their salaries as a badge now and dismiss them when it's not in their best interest to do so.
To his inevitable demise, Alan Eagleson argued against the merits of salary disclosure in hockey, even as it cost his membership and his credibility. But from a fan's perspective, was he wrong?
When you look at Rafael Araujo at $2 million a year and $2 million next year and $2 million the year after all guaranteed and you look at Matt Bonner at $385,000 for this year and nothing guaranteed for next, you are forced by circumstance to judge the strengths and failings of an athlete as much on performance as salary.
Sometimes, the less we knew about the money the better the games seemed to be.