Why aren’t we upset that athletes occupy the one percent? Half of all NBA players’ annual salaries exceed two-million, which is more than five times the threshold for the top one percent of household incomes in the United States. Kobe Bryant, for example, earns more than twenty-five million a year, and Jeremy Lin is receiving the NBA’s “minimum wage” of $800,000 per year:

Yet many of these same fans would almost surely argue that CEOs of Fortune 500 companies, whose median compensation is around $10 million, are ridiculously overpaid. If a star basketball player reacts a split-second faster than his competitors, no one has a problem with his earning more for every game than five factory workers do in a year. But if, say, a financial trader or a corporate executive is paid a fortune for being a shade faster than competitors, the public suspects that he or she is undeserving or, worse, a thief.

Corruption and shady dealings notwithstanding, it’s hard to see why the public tolerates the disproportionate incomes of athletes but can’t stand the same for financial analysts (working sixty to seventy hours a week, making less). It can’t be that star athletes are role models; while many certainly are, there are also Michael Vick’s, Ron Artest’s, and Zinedine Zidane’s. And sports teams “lobby governments as aggressively as any big business.” Let us not forget that Jeremy Lin’s own story only emerged because of a the contentious labor dispute between NBA billionaire owners and its millionaire players over the league’s multi-billion dollar annual revenues.

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