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For many young hoops fanatics, the dream of playing professional basketball is one filled with fame and riches. Although that’s the case for many NBA recruits, other semi-pro players face a much different financial picture, with earnings that are modest, even by nonprofessional athlete standards. In fact, even in the minor league closest to the NBA--known as the D-league, or developmental league--semi-pro basketball players’ salaries are but a fraction of their big-arena counterparts’ earnings.
Although salaries for semi-pro players vary significantly by the league and the level at which they play, the NBA’s developmental league, or the NBDL, is the largest semi-pro league in the nation. NBDL players’ salaries are typically low, and range from $12,000 to $24,000 per season depending on a player’s ability level, according to Inside Hoops. A top prospect with eyes on advancement to the NBA told NPR that he earned about $15,000 for a 50-game season, or about $300 per game. In some cases, the NBA subsidizes NBDL teams’ salaries in hope of developing major-league talent as a farm system.
In addition to their base salary, semi-pro basketball players receive a stipend for each day they’re on the road to help pay for cost-of-living expenses while they’re away. As of 2007, the NBDL’s typical stipend was $30 a day, according to NPR, or an additional $750 each season. Players are expected to provide their own food and daily expenses using this per diem. In contrast, an NBA player receives a $100 per diem while travelling.
Similar to efforts in the NBA to provide parity by limiting a large-market team’s ability to purchase the best players in the league with a salary cap, the NBDL institutes a team salary cap of $130,000 per team, according to "The Gazette of Maryland." In contrast, the NBA’s salary cap was set at $71.15 million the same season, and NBA teams were required to pay $44.01 million in team salaries that year.
Understanding that their low salaries may make it difficult for players to survive, some NBDL teams also provide housing for their players, according to NPR. Players usually live together in shared multi-bedroom apartments, with the team picking up the tab for rent and utilities.
Comparison to NBA League Minimum Salary
With many semi-pro basketball players on the verge of polishing their skills enough to compete in the NBA, those that make it to the big leagues can expect a tremendous increase in salary. The league minimum salary for an NBA player was $473,604 for the 2010-2011 season. That figure is 3.65 times larger than the aggregate team salary cap for NBDL teams.
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Wilhelm Schnotz has worked as a freelance writer since 1998, covering arts and entertainment, culture and financial stories for a variety of consumer publications. His work has appeared in dozens of print titles, including "TV Guide" and "The Dallas Observer." Schnotz holds a Bachelor of Arts in journalism from Colorado State University.