Usher Confidential

Ball so hard, this shit crazy
Y’all don’t know that don’t shit phase me
The Nets could go 0-82 and I look at you like this shit gravy

Jay-Z, N****s in Paris

Must be nice (Lyfe Jennings voice) Jay-Z, regardless of the Nets’ futility or this impending lockout, you will (still) indeed be balling. Even as a minority owner, you’ll be cooling. Same goes for the other owners around the league. As for the players, you’ll be good too, as long as you manage your money better than Charles Barkley and Antoine Walker ever could. I am actually 100% certain that is the exact reason the NBA has a “Money Management” seminar shortly after players are drafted… but I digress. As for the rest of us… the rest of us that have some employment connection to the NBA as arena ushers, concessionaires, game-day operation staff, well, we will not be as fortunate for however long this lockout lasts and continues to cut games. The ENTIRE NBA business model has decimated the preseason slate and is slowly chopping regular season games at the knees in two week intervals. The employees (and jobs) that are integral to making sure that the “system” runs properly for all of these NBA teams are being put up on the Mayan sacrificial altar as alms to the idol of the dollar sign in a vain attempt to make a collective bargaining agreement. Just like in Apocalypto, I am Jaguar Paw and that is not about to fly… not while I have a voice that yearns to be heard amid the dross of “I NEED MORE MONEY,” from the owners and players.

What I desire to achieve in this post is to describe the real dollar and cents loss in the odious aftermath of this continued lockout. I tread cautiously because of the hats I wear in this situation/debate/debacle/idiotic posturing/”asshattery” (as described by Ken Berger of I am an incredibly dedicated Trail Blazer fan (as well as a die-hard NBA enthusiast), I am an employee at the Rose Garden and I work all 41 home Trail Blazer games, and finally I am a post-college graduate living in America (more specifically Oregon, where the unemployment rate is as high as Rosie O’Donnell’s weight) trying to make enough money so I can pay off student loans and get by. Now of those three fitted caps only one takes the utmost importance and that is living life (obviously)… I say I tread cautiously because since I work as an usher at the Rose Garden, I am told to not speak to media or speak out (period) in regards to the lockout (no, I am not the one that sent Canzano the email from Mr. Oxley [who is a really nice guy. The two of us talk during games often, respect to the man]).

Even on the brief sheets, we're reminded that "no comment" is the best comment.

Strong wording since it would, in essence, make it impossible to talk about the lockout with anyone. It’s a novel idea, but as a part-time worker on the lowest level of NBA knowingness, I am not remunerated (thanks Archer! See, TV is educational) enough to be subjugated to a “keep silent” order. I feel this way for many reasons, two of them being: 1). What information would I have to add on this matter other than pure conjecture? How would whatever I say be different from the multitude of talking and writing heads that are already working on this?; 2). I have worked in the Garden for 4.67 years, it will be 5 in February 2012, I have not had a raise in 2.5 of those years. After receiving .25 cent raise (I’ll get into the numbers momentarily) per 6 months over the first 18 months of employment, my wage stagnated and sits at $9.25 since AEG Live, Inc. took over managing the Rose Garden. (Here I go talking about the company, uh-oh!) It is not as if AEG knows that they haven’t handed out raises, it is hot issue that arises every so often with many of my co-workers saying, “So what about a raise, eh?” in jest and it is met with a smattering of awkward laughs and forced smiles, with the seriousness of the issue only felt in the pit of the employee’s stomach because they know the corporate heads don’t really care. Again, I digress: I do not get paid enough to be subjugated to a gag order, and this was eloquently stated by a friend yesterday: “Nobody making < $50k should be subject to a gag order. If they want you to be quiet, they need to pay you for it, not give you less.”

So here I sit ready to expose how this NBA lockout affects the John Everyman, not just the millionaire basketballers and the billionaire owners. While the owners refuse to open their books to show where these massive losses are coming from, I am more than ok with opening mine to show how trite their complaints seem. The rich arguing with the richer is a bad look, especially with so much business, so many people’s employment and the overall image of the sport at stake. Get ready to finally understand the untold story of the arena worker.

As everyone who follows the NBA knows, the entire basketball year breaks down into three segments: pre-, regular and post-season. At the least, many arena ushers, concessionaires, food service and game-day operations are going to be able to work 3 or 4 preseason games and 41 regular season games. At the most, say like the workers at the American Airlines Center/Arena (Dallas and Miami have the same corporate title name sponsor), were able to work through the Finals. Each round of the playoffs definitely guarantees 2 more home games, and potentially guarantees 1 more upon staving off elimination/allowing the opponent back in the series. For example, the arena ushers at the Mavericks’ American Airlines Center worked 4 preseason games, 41 regular season games and 11 postseason games (thanks to Dallas’ championship run). That is a total of 56 basketball games over October to June, an incredible amount when you account for how long the shifts are (and how much longer they are if they are on national television, as Dallas was for most of the year). It also speaks to the stability of an arena worker’s job with the consistency of basketball games they will be scheduled for, and from there the team’s success dictates the potential for postseason work.

Compared to the Mavericks’ 56 home games played, the Portland Trail Blazers played 4 preseason games (3 in the Rose Garden and a throwback game in the Memorial Coliseum), 41 regular season games and 3 postseason games for a grand total of 48 home basketball games. I worked every game except for the throwback Memorial Coliseum game, I tried to pick up the shift but it didn’t work so I listened to it on the radio. This is where numbers get used heavily, and as a way for me to track all of them I made a spreadsheet of all of the earnings that I made over the last NBA season. The spreadsheet not only houses the Blazers shifts (which are bolded), but it also holds the other shifts that I worked. I did this because I wanted to do two things: refute any claims that I am “complaining about not getting enough work because of this,” I work plenty as you see– but a good chunk of my income comes from the Blazer games; and I wanted to do my own BRI (basketball related income for the unlearned) calculation to show how MUCH the NBA playing games means to an arena workers earnings.

If you reference the spreadsheet, every Blazer game shift lasts approxiamtely 4.25 hours (except for a quick Cleveland beatdown on St. Patrick’s Day that was done in 4). The only times that the shifts deviate from that constant is if the game goes into overtime OR it is a nationally televised game. Now, nationally televised games are a gift and a curse: a gift because it means an extra hour going onto the timecard, but a curse because it is one extra hour closer to midnight (which is usually the time many of the employees arrive home, myself included). Thanks to those oh-so-necessary television timeouts, a usually 2 hour and 15 minute game turns into an almost 3 hour marathon. Not that I complain too much, it’s an extra $9.25 in my direct deposit. Based off of what I lose for taxes, an average game check is $9.25/hr multiplied by 4.25 hours multiplied by .16 for tax purposes, which equals roughly $33.02 per game. I have done the math, and the tax percentage is not always 16%, it has been as low as 13% (I threw out the 10% from September 2010 because it wasn’t indicative overall) to as high as 20%. Major fluctuation was noted, but high 16-low 17 per cent taxation was seen. It’s all there in the spreadsheet.

Below are the totals from the spreadsheet broken down into four sections, net total income from an entire season at the Rose Garden, the net total income solely from Blazer games, Blazer income per game and my own personal BRI number, which coincidentally is in line with what the NBA players made over the past 10+ years from the revenue split. I laughed when I first saw it too, it was just too good to be true!

Net total from 9/29/2010 to 5/13/2011


Blazers Net Income (total)


Blazers Income/Game (Preseason, Regular Season, Postseason)


Basketball Related Income


As you can see from the table, I don’t make much money. But the majority of the money I do make is a direct result of working Blazer, er, NBA sanctioned games. 56.49% of all earnings for me last year were basketball related income, which speaks to how much I (along with my fellow co-workers) depend on the NBA to have games play as scheduled. The main reason I decided to apply at the Rose Garden was because of the chance to work Blazer games. By the end of my first half year working at the arena I was granted the opportunity to be a part of their “Familiar Face Program,” which I was awarded the section I work at for all 41 regular season games. I am able to request that same position right after the NBA schedules are released in August, and the only way I am in jeopardy of losing that position (as well as losing the ability to be scheduled for all 41 regular season games) is if I miss more than 3 regular games. The NBA, in my eyes, is job security to those working at the Rose Garden. Without that guarantee of being able to work those game shifts, I would be (and currently am) at the mercy of being scheduled (in competition with a few hundred other ushers) for the leftover events. No NBA games equals an inconsistent amount of shifts, which leads to inconsistent pay, which leads to increased difficulty in making ends meet.

(Editor’s note: here is where not being rewarded with a raise over the last 2.5 years comes into play and is slightly irritating. Had AEG kept with the half yearly raises of .25 cents, I would be at $10.50 an hour. Even if I am getting an inconsistent amount of shifts, the extra $1.25 makes up for the losses in games a bit; it also, in actuality, increases my earnings if the games were scheduled. [I should mention that the raise would stop at about $13, which starting from $8.50 would take 9 years to accomplish. Just an interesting bit to mention because the chasm between $9.25 and $10.50 is massive.] It’s just a talking point, and while it is irritating, I don’t mean to harp on it… even though this is harping like the cherubs.)

The NBA arena workers in this situation are allegoric, albeit on a less grave note, to the workers that Pablo Neruda speaks of in his poem La United Fruit Co. This became extremely apparent after the owners tanked talks by saying it was either their way or the highway and that they don’t care much for anyone else other than themselves. It is obvious that profits for the owners overtakes looking out for the common good, the common good which is looking out for all that are affected in the loss of NBA games. Just like the “disposable native workers” that the fruit companies exploited for work and exploited their land of resources, arena workers are being left out to dry with little hope of an NBA deal being decided upon. The metaphoric death or disposability comes from the difficulty to bring in meaningful income from working part-time in the arena and the owners implying that the arena workers who interact with the fans who buy the tickets to see their team, the arena workers who serve them and the fans food, the arena workers who provide security and protection DO NOT MEAN ANYTHING. In their business plan, the ones that make sure everything functions properly so they can generate money mean absolutely nothing. Do they understand how idiotic that sounds? Do they, or have they, wondered what it would be like if there were no arena workers in their building? (Aside: not that I subscribe to the sensationalism that Adrian Wojnarowski wrote about Paul Allen potentially selling the Blazers, and the Blazers potentially leaving Portland… BUT it would all but kill the Rose Garden and slightly cripple the economy in Portland. There is zero doubt that Portland would fade further into obscurity and be known as “that one city that has a TV show that makes fun of it.”)

To recap: I have shown how many games arena workers have the potential to work, though I cannot say that they all have similar “Familiar Face Programs.” I have mentioned how long shifts usually are, depending on whether or not it is a nationally televised game. I have used my own personal story as an example to demonstrate how vital working NBA games are to me earning income. Finally, I have added my own personal critiques about how the selfishness and greed of a select few affects a large number people, a number that is possibly 1000 times that of the minority (how funny that things don’t change, that a few dictate what happenings to thousands). So far due to the lockout, I have lost work on 3 preseason games and 4 regular season games (2 of which were nationally televised), which equates to $289.06 (gross) and $242.81 (net; that’s 2 months worth of loan checks right there). That is 14.9% of what I made (again, speaking about net wages) from working basketball games last year! Those numbers are only going to balloon the longer this asshattery continues. Unlike the season ticketholders that are given a refund, plus interest, we arena workers are given a letter stating that games are canceled and we are to remain patient as this situation sorts itself out.  It angers me that instead of meeting in August to figure the odds and ends out, both the NBA and NBPA decided that not meeting was the best course of action, and then the audacity of them both to think that 11th hour meetings and mediation were going to prove fruitful. I’ve been duped, you’ve been duped, we all have been duped.

I hope that this post has opened some eyes on how deeply this lockout affects arena employees. I also hope it goes to show what some people (read: journalists and blogississts who think they’re fancy) don’t understand when “fans” (who also happen to be arena workers) say that “star players who were never involved in the labor discussions do not have the right to derail positive talks and dictate how others make their living.” I’m looking at you @jonesontheNBA, for your tweets on Friday, October 7th around 6ish PST (oddly specific, I know)… they make enough money as it is, what is sacrificing a bit more so that the ENTIRE NBA working community has a chance to make a living as well. This was written because even though I have been asked to refrain from speaking about it, I feel I have to tell how devastating this is and the over-arching impact it may have on people’s lives. Money for rent, food, medicine, car insurance, student loan payments is being lost because billionaires feel like they’re losing a few million. That’s why they want to keep the arena workers loss confidential: to exert control and make their interests the only ones that are heard.

Co-worker Gayle and I go 3 goggle crazy right behind Dallas' bench in Game 4. Camraderie is lost with the games that are lost. Connections with fans, such as the great guy that took this photo, are lost. I miss this. I miss the atmosphere. It will not be the same when everything begins anew... it will be a tainted feeling of joy.

Postscript: As I have read more and more lockout related news recently, the theme of race playing a pivotal role in this lockout has become increasingly popular to write about. Bryant Gumble recently compared David Stern to a plantation owner and TrueHoop stated that the black players in the league are asserting themselves against the tryanny of the 98.2% old and white NBA team owners. Journalists, blog keepers and Bryant Gumble (who, with that Stern remark actually makes Wayne Brady look like Malcom X, #amirite Dave Chappelle?): I know this lockout has been arduous, lengthy and downright boring because of the lack of positive news… but that DOES NOT make it OK to posit race as an underlying factor in any of this. It actually makes you look that one friend who tells terrible stories that turn everyone off and make them wonder when you’re going to shut the hell up. It makes you look idiotic (cough, Bryant Gumble, cough), it makes you sound ignorant by tossing around a charged and controversial topic and it emits a “well, I know I have nothing to talk about, but let’s see how far this takes me.” If you haven’t anything new to report, just state that simply and leave the conspiracy by the wayside. Nobody needs to hear that rubbish because not every issue is or needs to be made an one of race (especially if Rev. Jesse Jackson or Al Sharpton have not come to say that it is, #jokes). That is all I need to say about that.


32 thoughts on “Usher Confidential”

  1. aside from the owners, players and fans, you are certainly more affected by the lockout than the rest. It’s greatly unfortunate that the two negotiating sides don’t seem to understand that. i’m glad you wrote this (and extremely well-written and presented). in this time of lackluster economy in this country, it’s extremely unfortunate that games are being lost. though at this point i am not optimistic that there will be a season at all, i do hope that the season is not lost completely. not for the owners, not for the players (though a tad for the fans); but for those of you who are truly the most affected by this lockout.

    ~ KMM

  2. aside from the owners, players and fans, you are certainly more affected by the lockout than the rest. It’s greatly unfortunate that the two negotiating sides don’t seem to understand that. i’m glad you wrote this (and extremely well-written and presented). in this time of lackluster economy in this country, it’s extremely unfortunate that games are being lost. though at this point i am not optimistic that there will be a season at all, i do hope that the season is not lost completely. not for the owners, not for the players (though a tad for the fans); but for those of you who are truly the most affected by this lockout.

    ~ KMM

  3. Seriously? Zach Lowe and the rest of the basketball blogging illuminati are tweeting out links to this bullsh*t like it has any relevance or bearing to the lockout? Who cares? Ushers and arena employees work there for a reason, and are nown to be some of the most unsavory, untrustworthy characters around. Take this with a grain of salt, a bead of sweat people. Don’t let these dorks influence you

  4. In the owners eyes, you are expendable… right along with every arena worker. To a certain extent, their own company staff members are expendable. In America, we idolize sports figures, and as a result, will go out of our way to be in their presence. Whether that be spending $300 to take your family to a game or working for less money in exchange for the prestige of being affiliated with the game. They know this and they exploit it… to a certain extent, they’re using the same mentality to cut the players play (everyone in the NBA would take a pay cut in the league than to play abroad, even if salaries were increased by doing so).

    If you quit your job at $9.50, they will very easily find someone to replace you, perhaps at $8.00 or whatever the minimum wage is there. My friend did security for the Yankees for $8.00… THE YANKEES! When they got eliminated, so did he… so did his cell phone and other small luxuries most people take for granted. But like most people that make $8.00, he lives with his parents and has no real life-or-death expenses. These jobs are made for people like him, not college graduates with rent, children, student loan expenses, etc. I’m not trying to justify their actions or overlook the hardships you are facing, but this is a reality of the underlying problem (depending on which side of the poverty scale you’re on) – AMERICAN CAPITALISM. The problems you are facing are no different than everyone else that rests at the bottom of a Corporate American totem pole.

    You are very articulate and I’m sure you can make a lot more than $9.50/hour if you looked for it. I interned at a company that used to own the Nets and I sat down with their Arena General Manager. I asked him about the prospects of a career in sports as well as my desire to pursue a career in law. He looked me dead in my eyes and said, “Go to law school… Make a ton of money, and buy tickets to the games. Working here is fun, but you won’t make enough to enjoy much outside of life otherwise.” When I came across a spreadsheet of the company’s operating expenses, I saw the salaries of many of the workers, and their projections from 2008-2013. Many of the people holding high positions in that company weren’t making much more than full-time retail workers. You would think a billion dollar corporation/mogul could do better… but why should he when thousand of people would kill to have that same job making even less?

    P.S. – The title is misleading.. I thought the singer, Usher, was complaining about losing money with the Cavs… Glad it wasn’t, though for obvious reasons.

  5. Great read…..It is sad to see how money can convolute people. This is especially true of both the owners and the players because it seems the more they earn the faster they forget about the overall picture and start focusing on the microcosm of their world. The fundamental concept of society around the world is flawed and that stems from the notion of adopting a capitalist approach. In this system we truly witness “the winners” and “losers” of society and we see that through the NBA lockout. The owners & players both share the stance of being “losers” because they can’t come to an agreement for a few couple of “mil”. However, the people who actually lose and suffer are actually the people who make all the home games possible; from the ushers to the hardworking people who run the concessions. People’s livelihood, personal welfare and family truly deteriorate because their primary source of income and well-being is stripped of them due to the fact owners & players believe their “personal welfare” is being sacrificed. Give me a break, these people need to grow up.

    With that being said, I just wanted to say keep your head up and don’t stop believing. I think they are bigger things ahead of you on the horizon, and through your writing you exhibit extreme potential & passion.

  6. Pingback: The Point Forward » Posts Portland takes center stage amid lockout talk «
  7. That was well put. Its nice to read somthing about actual people who are losing money and not have to hear that a Billionaire/ Millionaire sports person is losing anything. I am disgusted by the owners/ Players living in the fantasy world, especially in this horrible situation that the WORLD is going through. How many times do I need to be told that 7 Million isn`t enough to feed my family…If a deal is to made then offer this one, both sides take 50% then the 1-2% percent of money be re invested in the Arena staff, through insentives and good will. That makes the bloated owners/ players all look good on the word that they are looking out for the little guy..unless your KG then all workers are below him and should be treated poorly.

  8. Very nice post. I hope you are not punished by AEG or the Blazers’ organization for speaking out on this subject. The “everyman”, as you eloquently allude to, is always forgotten in the dealings of the wealthy. One reason why is because the owners, the organization, the league, and, to the extent possible, the players know that the “everyman” is replaceable, especially in this economy. They know that if you and your brethren stand on principle and demand higher wages or push more of these lesser-discussed facts into the light, they can simply replace you with unemployed workers yearning for $9.25 per hour. Such is the sad state of affairs in our world.

    I am a NBA fan. I am a Celtics fan. I want the NBA back, but as each day passes and each meeting ends in an impasse, I care less and less for the way these men (league, owners, players) handle their business. They are all fools. They are fools playing with the lives of the “everyman.” It is impossible at this point to assign blame for why their collective bargaining is failing. They are ALL to blame. They sit with the most delicious of money pies before them, yet they can’t decide who gets which share of the pie. These players play a game for a living. These owners (and the league) profit off of these players playing a game. And, over this game, these fools argue about how much money they each deserve, while the “everyman” who pays to see this game be played, and the “everyman” who preps and cleans the arena where the game is played, and the “everyman” who goes out of their way as part of the job to coddle and bow to these millionaires and billionaires of this game are treated like unnecessary rubbish.

    Shame on all these men. Instead of the owners/league locking out the players, the fans should boycott the league, and then we’ll see how much the league, owners, and players enjoy their diminishing money pie. They profit off of a game, yet they’re toying with real lives.

  9. If you have worked at the RG for any length of time you should realize that you will be fired for blogging about the lockout. I expect the league office to react as soon as they learn about your blog by demanding that you are terminated. I don’t understand posting a picture of yourself. You soon will be a martyr for the rest of us. I love reading peoples replies to your post, and how arena workers are lower life forms with no lives or families. Two of my coworkers have Masters Degrees, and most have full time day jobs.

  10. Usher:

    Your claim that 56% of your annual income is basketball related is incorrect. That is unless you don’t work from mid May to the end of September. 56% of your income during the season may be basketball related but that is not how you are presenting the information.

    “But the majority of the money I do make is a direct result of working Blazer, er, NBA sanctioned games. 56.49% of all earnings for me last year were basketball related income…”

  11. Well written. Thank you.

    Now, how are you, a graduate from college, making less than $3K per 9 months?

    I don’t ask with the intent of offending. I am seriously curious.

    What extenuating circumstances keep you from working a full-time job or a series of part-time jobs?

    I feel for you not being able to be in the arena with the fans and the game while the lockout is in effect. But, last year, during the full season, more than half of your 9 months of income came from working 48 evenings. As you are adept at math, it shouldn’t be a stretch to calculate that there were 225 other evenings, along with 274 other days and graveyard shifts when you could have worked, too.

    From my point of view, millionaires arguing with billionaires has very little bearing on your ability to make a living.

    Having said that, I’m sure I don’t understand your situation. Please enlighten me.

  12. Hey great post, I have been trying to find posts written from the perspectives of people associated with the teams, so this was really informative.

    I’m looking to write an article for my sports writing class (not to be published, only for marks) and was hoping I might be able to talk to you to get the ball rolling, but this is already a great starting point.

    Let me know if, and how I can get in touch with you, thanks, and goodluck during the lockout!

    PS Email is signed on the comment, which I assume you can see.

  13. I don’t agree with the lockout. But it’s hard to agree with you either.
    Wages are based on skills in demand. As most competent adults posess the skills to say, flip burgers or even be an usher at a basketball game, the wages are low. As few people posess the skills to pilot an aircraft or design a building the wages are higher. It has nothing to do with how much your employer is worth, or makes. It’s about how scarce the skills that you posess are.
    As an intelligent person, I assume you already know this.
    Relying on a part time, low skilled job in an entertainment arena is pure folly m’man. As an intelligent person, you should already should know this as well.
    My question is…why the hell are you wasting time writing diatribes like this, and not hunting for a better job? Or getting more skills to get a better job?
    Writing this achieves nothing, except putting your one source of income in potential jeopardy. I think you need to put your time and intelligence to more productive uses.

    1. now for the third time while reading responses i have to say what is your point…?

      you are aware the country is in a recession the likes of which it has not seen since the great depression?

      his story was to entertain and inform people… is it really that hard to understand where his intentions lie?

      Does it really make you feel superior to patronize someone who entertained you?

      Here is another question for you. does he actually say when he graduated? maybe this was a job to make ends meet while attending college? do you know what happens when you assume…? it makes an ass-of-u-and-me.

      duecelow says: “Writing this achieves nothing.”

      ohh it does actually achieve something. it opens up discussion, and links to it from sportswriters around the country. i originally came from maybe just maybe he is an aspiring sportswriter…

      hopefully you read this rus, chris, and duecelow, and are a little more reluctant to stand on your soap boxes next time….hmmmmm?

      it doesn’t feel so nice having your own feet put to the fire does it?

  14. Try working the Winterhawks games if you can. You may not be a hockey fan but you can guarantee they will never get to a lockout since they don’t get paid for playing major junior hockey. I say to hell with the overpaid whiners on both sides of the aisle of the NBA — let’s go back to cheering on those minor leagues who play because they want to and for the love of the game.

  15. This man is a GOD. Blazers management has no right to tell Ushers and other arena employees to not talk about how the lockout is impacting their life. Unless they start sending in ushers, concession stand workers, and members of security to the owners/NBPA meetings, the next time AEG tries to infringe on this mans 1st amendment right, Uduk should personally be able to take a giant pipe rod and shove it up ‘where the sun don’t shine’ to each player and owner.

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