Harris guided a survey that compiled financial data for 272 teams in 14 major pro leagues. He gathered information for clubs that cover 10 countries, comprise 7,802 athletes and paid out a combined $15.2 billion in salaries.
Pro soccer's FC Barcelona topped the list with an average annual salary per player of $7.9 million. Real Madrid ($7.3 million), the Yankees ($6.7 million) and the Lakers ($6.4 million) grabbed spots 2 through 4. But tucked between pro soccer teams at Nos. 10 (Manchester City) and 12 (Bayern Munich) was an underperforming NBA squad that finished the 2010-11 campaign with a disappointing 39-43 and ended the season without coach Jerry Sloan and All-Star guard Deron Williams.
The No. 11 highest paying team on the planet, according to Harris? The Jazz, who shelled out an average of $5.8 million per player and had a total payroll of about $75 million.
"The fact that the Jazz are 11 is … kind of counterintuitive," Harris said.
Money split • The Jazz declined to comment for this story. But Chief Executive Officer Greg Miller acknowledged in April that Utah rolled the dice during 2010-11 and lost "quite a bit" of money, while General Manager Kevin O'Connor has often praised the Miller family's willingness to spend what it takes to compete in the modern NBA.
Andrei Kirilenko's expiring $17.8 million contract ate up the largest chunk of the Jazz's payroll, while Al Jefferson ($13 million), Mehmet Okur ($9.9 million), Devin Harris ($8.9 million) and Paul Millsap ($7.6) were all handsomely paid.
"As a family, we don't own the Jazz to make money," Miller told The Salt Lake Tribune in April. "We have other businesses, fortunately, that do quite well and allow us to pay our bills from the profits they generate."
Utah wasn't the only NBA team that paid to play. Nick Harris' info shows that all 30 NBA organizations ranked in the top 87 in the world, while the league placed seven teams in the top 20 more than any sport besides soccer (nine). In addition, the NBA paid about 420 players an average of $4.6 million last season, dwarfing an average of $2.2 million for NFL players.
"The NBA guys are the highest paid athletes in the world," said Harris, who acknowledged that his figures differed slightly from numbers released by the NBA and NBA Players Association (NBPA).
Differing opinions about everything from salaries and team revenue to the length of guaranteed contracts and a stricter salary cap are at the core of the league's ongoing lockout. Representatives for NBA owners and players are scheduled to meet Monday for the first collective bargaining agreement (CBA) conference since the July 1 work stoppage.
"The NBA lockout is very likely to go for most or all of an entire season," said Gary Roberts, dean and professor at the Indiana University Law School-Indianapolis. "There are some fundamental structural problems in the NBA. Its business model is broken, and the fixes are going to be painful for both sides. My guess is that we'll see a replay of the NHL's lost season in 2004-05."
Different numbers • Harris said that he relied on average salary instead of total payroll in the attempt to compare like to like, and his numbers clearly stand out. But some challenged his "apples-to-oranges" approach.
Larry Coon, a CBA expert and ESPN.com contributor, said that Harris' reliance upon averages to summarize large sets of data likely misses important nuances.
"An average can be downright misleading when there are outliers in the data or the data aren't distributed symmetrically," Coon said. "For these and other reasons, averages aren't very useful unless you're doing apples-to-apples comparisons. You can glean some insight by comparing NBA teams to each other, but using averages to compare NBA teams to teams in different sports is nearly meaningless."
Matthew Parlow, a Marquette University associate professor of law, said Harris' list is "interesting." But Parlow also believes that the numbers are somewhat skewed. "Different leagues ... and their attendant teams have vastly different expenses, costs, revenue sharing arrangements, etc.," said Parlow, who is associated with Marquette's National Sports Law Institute.
Parlow found Harris' list useful, though, when examining the small market versus big market battle, which is a major component of the NBA lockout.
According to Harris, the Jazz outspent San Antonio ($4 million per average player) and Sacramento ($2.9 million) last season, despite all three teams playing in similar-sized markets. Utah fell apart during the second half of the year, though, setting an NBA record for futility. Meanwhile, the Kings were never in contention. In contrast, San Antonio ended the regular season with the second-best record (61-21) in the league.
To Parlow, the Spurs' success and the Jazz's solid track record lend credence to the theory that smart management and a well-constructed team can overcome the financial drawbacks of a small market an assertion often made by the NBPA during the buildup toward the lockout.
"The Jazz have had strong ownership and management likely a major contributing factor in their success while the Kings' ownership and management [have] been awfully questionable in recent years," Parlow said.
Check The Tribune's Jazz Notes blog at sltrib.com/Blogs/jazznotes for exclusive news, interviews, video and analysis.
The Jazz finished just 39-43 last season and failed to make the playoffs for the first time since 2006, despite having a total payroll of about $75 million. According to Nick Harris, editor of sportingintelligence.com, Utah's average player salary ranked No. 11 out of all professional teams in the world.
Larry Coon, collective bargaining agreement expert and ESPN.com contributor:
"An average can be downright misleading when there are outliers in the data or the data aren't distributed symmetrically. For these and other reasons, averages aren't very useful unless you're doing apples-to-apples comparisons. You can glean some insight by comparing NBA teams to each other, but using averages to compare NBA teams to teams in different sports is nearly meaningless."