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Monday, July 17, 2000

Despite pocketbook, all Canadians are equal

  MONTREAL -- The fiscal truth of the matter is this:

 The Canadian men's basketball team has one player on its roster who will earn more in salary on his current contract than the rest of the players combined likely will make in their lifetimes.

 The fiscal truth of the matter is that Steve Nash, point guard for the NBA's Dallas Mavericks when he isn't donating his time to the national team, signed a six-year, $33-million US contract early in 1999.

 Every other coach and player on the Canadian men's roster --save for the Philadelphia 76ers' Todd MacCulloch, who earned $300,000 US last season as an NBA rookie -- earns, or shortly will earn, a salary far more in keeping with what the rest of us mere mortals earn: roughly $50,000 to $150,000 per year. Plus a car and an apartment for those who play in Europe.

 Essentially, and relatively speaking, what you have is a grotesquely unbalanced salary structure: with the exception of Nash and possibly MacCulloch, you have a team of a about dozen 12 have-nots. The have-not number climbs if you include the coaches.

 It isn't like this on the U.S. team, for instance, where every player is a millionaire several times over.

 Now, no one is going to hold a tag-day for Canada's non-NBA players. They all earn, or eventually will earn, comfortable livings.

 But the very nature of the dollar spread could be an incredibly awkward problem.

 For instance, picture this scene: The team goes into a bar, or a restaurant. If the NBA players don't pick up the tab, they come off as resentfully cheap. If they do pick up the tab, they come off as if they're throwing their considerable money around.

 Somehow, and this speaks to the kind of people Nash and MacCulloch are, it hasn't been a problem.

 "You know, I've never, ever, seen them ever flaunt anything," Canada's coach, Jay Triano, said.

 Toronto swingman Rowan Barrett says the reason it isn't a problem is because Nash and MacCulloch, besides not being the type to make money an issue, came up through the same Canadian national team developmental system as all the other players on the roster. They forged bonds back when they all were just kids and played because they loved playing, not because they were concerned about money.

 "I remember playing with Steve when we were 16 and all he wanted to do was throw alley-oops, you know what I mean?" Barrett said.

 "Now, obviously, everything has changed. But everybody makes a comfortable living. But we're all friends. We've known one another for a long time. I think that makes a difference."

 In Montreal, where the Canadian men's and women's teams will play the final games of their three-game exhibition series with Brazil and Cuba, respectively, the teams are lodging at a Days Inn, two players to a room.

 The hotel is comfortable enough, yet was chosen out of respect for the fact that Canada Basketball is not exactly rolling in money for accommodations.

 Think what this could mean for MacCulloch or Nash, who are used to being pampered beyond your wildest dreams on the road and who certainly wouldn't be expected to room with a teammate. In Nash's case, the boundaries of excess have been pushed to still greater levels by new Dallas owner Mark Cuban, the dot.com billionaire who has decided no perk is too small for his players.

 "They don't want to be singled out for treatment different than their teammates," Triano said. "They don't want a different room. Or single rooms. They just take what we give 'em. It's amazing.

 "If you didn't know who they were, nobody would know any better."

 The salary issue potentially could be a problem vis-a-vis team discipline. In the NBA, part of the reason that coaches' salaries ballooned was to acknowledge that players tended not to respect or listen to a coach who was making far less than the players. For them, the salary numbers were clear indicators of who wielded the real power within an organization.

 Nash not only has not sought to exert the power he holds, he playfully has declined attempts by Triano to influence player-personnel decisions. He wants to be, in other words, one of the boys.

 "Jay wouldn't have it any other way," Barrett said. "If that's the type of person a player was, he wouldn't be playing on our team. That's not the type of team we want to put on the floor. That's not the type of team we want representing Canada.

 "We want a team where every guy is pulling for one another, where there are no prima donnas."