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Bank-Rolling Thunder

by Robb Reel

I did the math.


That's how much of his income Kevin Durant donated to tornado-relief efforts in Oklahoma.  Durant, who was in Minnesota to watch childhood friend Monica Wright play for the WNBA's Lynx, acknowledged to reporters that he had contributed $1 million.  Shortly thereafter, his team -- the Oklahoma City Thunder -- matched that amount.

It's a nice, round number: $1 million.  It's easy to grasp: $1,000,000.  While it is far more than any "regular" American -- or nearly everyone affected by this tragedy -- could ever imagine earning, it is not difficult to imagine that amount itself.

I have some background in economics, the focus of my History degree.  Every major event, every war, every world-changing breakthrough, comes down to "follow the money" for me.  So while my heart was moved by Durant's grand gesture, I couldn't help but wonder what it really means to his bottom line.  It's not a skepticism of his generosity -- by all accounts, he's a really good dude --  just a genuine interest in the numbers.

I will oversimplify on this: Durant's NBA salary for this season is $17,830,000.  That $1,000,000 represents 5.6% of it.  That's just the beginning, though = before taxes.

[Photo: The Oklahoman/NewsOK.com]

For this discussion, let's discount any endorsement income, as it would be negligible by comparison.  We'll dismiss any sheltering, deferments or anything else that deviates from the standard tax rules you and I follow.  While the DC native undoubtedly supports several family members, he is legally single with no children and, thus, would have to file at the highest rate.  We'll also assume only the standard deductions, just to for easy math's sake.

Salary: $17,830,000

Federal tax liability: $6,213,848.50

State tax liability [Oklahoma]: $980,129.25

After-tax income: $10,636,022.25

That means, at the highest tax rates, Durant loses about 40% of his income.  As I said, this doesn't count many deductions, credits or anything else that lowers or delays his tax burden.  However, it also doesn't account for sales taxes, property taxes, license plates for multiple vehicles, nor the additional excise taxes on anything from alcohol to gasoline,  It also doesn't address how states such as California and New York gouge professional athletes when they come there to play in required road games.  Oh yeah, let's not forget that Durant will have a much shorter career, due to physical demands of basketball, than you or I, and probably higher and more frequent medical bills.

Rather than sort all that stuff out, for the purposes of this discussion, let's just call it "even."

The long and the short of it is that Kevin Durant just donated 10% of his after-tax income to help other people who currently have almost nothing.  Before you go on that rant about how "athletes are all spoiled and overpaid anyway," ask yourself this: could you give up one-tenth of your spending money?  I consider myself a pretty charitable guy -- I can be, since I've worked hard to be debt-free -- but I know I couldn't do that.

I'll grant you that no one is worth nearly $18 million, but no one spent his own money better than Kevin Durant just did.