The genesis of the ‘Fat Clause’
Professional athletes are no strangers to incentive-laden contracts. Performance-based bonuses have been a part of the picture for years, from appearing in a certain number of games to being named MVP or reaching the playoffs.
But teams have begun adding a new carrot to players’ contracts in the NBA — weight clauses.
The most recent example of the weight clause (or Fat Clause as I refer to it) was implemented in the contract recently signed by Los Angeles Lakers’ second-round pick Derrick Caracter. Concerns about his work ethic caused Caracter to slip in the draft, leading the Lakers to adopt a novel solution: Caracter’s contract states that if he weighs 275 pounds or less by Sept. 10, then his rookie-minimum contract becomes fully guaranteed at $473,604; if he does not make weight, then his deal is only partially guaranteed for $250,000.
Glen “Big Baby” Davis of the Boston Celtics had a similar Fat Clause included in the contract he signed last season, assuring him an extra $500,000 each year of his 5-year contract he remained under 310 pounds.
But the fact that teams are beginning to include certain fitness expectations in the language of contracts should not come as much of a shock; the bigger issue here is that players’ weights have become an issue in the NBA in the first place.
Issues with conditioning can be easily explained in sports such as football, where a big defensive lineman can be worth his weight in gold so long as he has maintained some mobility. And baseball players won’t be mistaken for marathon runners anytime soon, either. Between David Ortiz’s gut and David Wells’ drunken perfect game, it is painfully clear that baseball can be played at a high level by anyone.
But in the NBA, where everyday players can expect to put in 35 to 40 minutes of non-stop action during games and more during practice, an issue with conditioning would seem as unlikely as Isiah Thomas being presented a key to the city of New York. But it is a problem — and a growing one.
Many promising careers have fallen victim to a player’s failure to get into or stay in game shape. Shawn Kemp was once one of the most dominant and dynamic power forwards in the game, but when his weight began to drift around 280 in the late 1990s and early 2000s, his production fell fast. (To be fair, drug problems also contributed to his eventual fall from grace.)
The same can be said of Vin Baker, whose weight had reached nearly 300 pounds by the end. (Baker also suffered from alcoholism, which contributed to his problems.)
Other players like Oliver Miller, Kevin Duckworth, Stanley Roberts, Lee Nailon, and Jerome James were held back because of their weights, and current players like Eddy Curry, Boris Diaw and Sean May seem headed for the same fate.
Then there is the case of Shaquille O’Neal, whose mammoth size and affinity for packing on the pounds in the off-season are well chronicled. His listed weight of 325 pounds has been placed closer to 360-plus at various points of his career, mostly near the end of his tenure with the Lakers.
Many wonder just how dominant Shaq could have been had he kept himself in better shape over the course of his career. They wonder if he could have avoided the nagging injuries that seemed to plague him at times and reached even greater heights as a player had he possessed the workout-warrior mentality of a Kevin Garnett, maybe even challenging Kareem Abdul-Jabbar for the NBA’s all-time scoring mark.
But that will not be Shaq’s legacy. He will be remembered as the most physically imposing center the game has ever seen, but someone who could have attained more had be been inclined to work harder.
And that is why teams have begun utilizing the Fat Clause. It protects a team’s financial investment in a player by incentivising hard work, ensuring that a player will not slack off immediately after putting pen to paper. After all, no team wants a $10 million eating machine sitting on the end of the bench in his 4XL warm-ups.
Yet the more disturbing trend is that players seem increasingly unwilling to go about their business in a professional manner, and an indifference towards fitness is just one manifestation of this mentality.
Too many players seem content cashing checks while getting by on their athleticism and natural ability instead of working hard in practice and the weight room to reach their full potential. Kwame Brown, Stromile Swift and Tim Thomas are just a few of the players who have or had all the tools to reach at least All-Star status but never were inclined to put in the necessary work, instead carving out bit roles for themselves in the league and playing hard only in a contract year.
Few professions allow as many free passes for laziness as professional sports, but considering the salaries involved, this should not be the case.
So consider the Fat Clause the opening salvo in a new war on laziness. Owners are tired of paying overweight, disinterested players and language stipulating fitness and work ethic standards may very well become the norm in contracts once the next Collective Bargaining Agreement goes into effect in the next year or so.
Just imagine what Shaq might have achieved all these years had his contract contained a Fat Clause. It could have been scary.
By: Eric Lorenz
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