The NBA Lockout and Owners' 'Psychic Benefits'

Jackie Robinson signs contract to play for the Brooklyn Dodgers. (Getty)
Jackie Robinson signs contract to play for the Brooklyn Dodgers. (Getty)

Author Malcolm Gladwell, in a blog entry at Grantland, argues that some NBA owners receive more pleasure from ownership than economic returns, which explains their peculiar behavior during the lockout. 


The Boston Red Sox signed their first black player in 1959, a utility infielder named "Pumpsie" Green. This was 12 years after the Brooklyn Dodgers broke the color line with Jackie Robinson. No other team in baseball dragged its feet on integration like the Red Sox. It wasn't until 1965, in fact — 18 years after Robinson started at second base for the Dodgers — that Boston had its first full-time black player. Why? 

The simple answer — that the Red Sox owner at the time, Tom Yawkey, was a racist — is not terribly satisfying …

Yawkey was not just a racist, in other words. He was a racist who put his hatred of black people ahead of his desire to make money. Economists have a special term they use to describe this kind of attitude. They would say that Yawkey owned the Red Sox not to maximize his financial benefits, but, rather, his psychic benefits. Psychic benefits describe the pleasure that someone gets from owning something — over and above economic returns … In discussions of pro sports, the role of psychic benefits doesn't get a lot of attention. But it should, because it is the key to understanding all kinds of behavior by sports owners — most recently the peculiar position taken by management in the NBA labor dispute …

Read Malcolm Gladwell's entire blog entry at Grantland.