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LeBron James: Where's the outrage about his salary?

At a time when 15 million Americans have no job at all, we should be indignant about pro athletes like LeBron James earning more than $15 million a year.

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In 1930, when the baseball star Babe Ruth earned the then-unheard-of sum of $80,000, a reporter asked him why he should make more than the president of the United States, Herbert Hoover.

“Why not?” Ruth famously replied. “I had a better year than he did.”

That much was true. The stock market crashed in October of 1929, triggering what would soon be known as the Great Depression. By 1933, one-quarter of able-bodied Americans were out of work. Unable to reverse the trend, President Hoover became the butt of jokes across the land: an empty pocket turned outwards was a “Hoover flag,” and a homeless encampment was a “Hoover village.”

Hoover earned $75,000 in 1930 – five thousand less than the Babe, who hit his 500th career home run the previous summer. But the reporter’s question implied that neither of them should be making that much money, when so much of the country was mired in poverty.

And that was the context missing from this summer’s hoopla surrounding basketball superstar LeBron James, which concluded last night with an hour-long TV special on ESPN. After months of speculation – would he stay in Cleveland? would he go to Chicago? – James announced that he will sign with the Miami Heat. He’ll join Heat guard Dwyane Wade – who decided to stay in Miami – and Toronto Raptors power forward Chris Bosh, the Heat’s other big-time free-agent acquisition.

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