Opinion

Commentary: NBA players, owners are from Mars

Most days, Tammy Smith wakes up tired and goes to bed hungry. She has 12 children — three with sickle cell anemia. She can’t find a job. Her husband died last year.

To her, the NBA lockout that has put the season in jeopardy might as well be taking place on Mars.

The Lakers’ Kobe Bryant, who pockets $307,859 per game when there are games, and Orlando Magic owner Richard DeVos, whose net worth is $5 billion, might as well be Martians.

Smith’s No. 1 goal every day is to feed her kids. She cannot relate to Portland Trail Blazers owner Paul Allen as a fellow human being. He owns a 416-foot yacht with two helicopters perched on its deck.

To her and 99.9 percent of Americans, the NBA stalemate over how to share $4 billion is not a grim Armageddon pitting labor against corporate power.

“It’s just plain silly when you stop to think about it,” she said.

Don’t get Smith wrong. She likes basketball, and she was grateful to the Miami Heat for hosting its 20th annual Thanksgiving Celebration.

She was among 600 people who came to the Miami Rescue Mission on Monday and received a Thanksgiving meal to take home.

The Heat also threw a block party for residents of Overtown and Wynwood. Team president Pat Riley, coach Erik Spoelstra, former star Alonzo Mourning, assistant coaches and Heat employees handed out turkeys and pineapples to the people who need them most.

The celebration was different this year. The players were absent. So the kids missed seeing Dwyane Wade and LeBron James. At a time when the season should be lighting up downtown, the sport is in limbo.

Riley said he’s using the extra time to build a plan – “I think we’re up to 2050,” he joked — and to watch lots of college basketball.

And to give back to the community. It’s a responsibility the Heat takes seriously, and one that has grown.

The Miami Rescue Mission, which has been caring for the homeless since 1922, provided 750,000 meals and 315,000 nights of emergency shelter last year, said spokesman Casey Angel. Difficult times have made the mission’s purpose more vital than ever.

“The face of the homeless is changing,” Angel said. “The stereotype is the 60-year-old Caucasian male wearing tattered clothes, with dirty hair, addicted to drugs. Now we see more families, people who had a decent job and thought they were set and all of a sudden, everything was taken away.”

Northwest First Avenue was filled with poor men and women and children who found a little relief, kindness and joy.

Alejandro Montalvo, 49, a former semipro football player and construction worker with a bum knee, has been living on sidewalks for months. He sees a lot of families living in cars. He lost touch with his wife, four daughters and seven grandchildren after he lost his job.

“I don’t want to go visit them with my hand out,” said Montalvo, who is hoping to put his life back on track after he is admitted to an alcoholism rehab program next week.

He’s a basketball fan, but he sees the sport — all pro sports — drifting away from its audience and into eventual irrelevance.

“Everything is money,” he said. “I mean, big money. I don’t pay much attention because I’ve got to find a way to pay the bills.”

The irony of Monday’s scenario was not lost on Riley, who handed out food while waiting for the NBA’s high-priced show to return to the stage.

“I don’t say this with any disrespect to my job because I love what I do, but we are in the toy department. We’re playing games,” Riley said. “This is real.”

Montalvo carried a plastic bag full of donated clothes, thankful for dry shoes after several rainy nights. Smith sat on the curb with her kids, eating cotton candy and hot dogs. They watched the Heat dancers until it was time for the party to close down.

“It was very nice,” Smith said. “I hope I can find something like it for Christmas.”

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