Athlete Plays For Love, Not Money…No, Seriously

Barry Bonds couldn’t get a team to sign him even after offering to play for the league minimum. Here’s another idea for him.

Joseba Etxeberria

Athletic Bilbao winger Joseba Etxeberria wants to play one last season, so he’s signed a free contract with the club he’s been with for 13 years.  That’s completely free. Zero Euros. With the exchange rate, I think that’s negative dollars.

“Etxe” has played for Bilbao, in Spain’s top league, since he was 17 years old. Anxious to get to 500 games played, he inked a deal to play the 2009/10 season without being paid, proving two things. First, there are some athletes out there who truly do have loyalty to their teams, and love playing so much that they would do it for nothing. Second, La Liga needs a better player’s union.

Seriously, can you imagine this happening in an American sport? Kobe Bryant may love the Lakers and finish his career there, but can you see him giving back the $20 million he’ll make this season?

Etxeberria is something of a folk hero to Bilbao and the Basque community, and says he wants to give back to the team that gave him his start:

This is a thank-you to the behavior of the club towards me and the love I have received from so many people.

Team president Fernando Garcia Macau was understandably excited about not having to open up his wallet for a player past his prime, but still a major draw. “From the club’s standpoint there are not words to thank such a gesture,” he said. He left out the part about Etxe having to make the gesture because the club failed to offer him a contract that, you know, paid money.

Still, it’s a heartwarming story to anyone who has seen a player pocket unthinkable cash while sitting on the sidelines, or mailing it in, or plays for the Mariners. If you’ve ever said “Player X should give his money back after stinking up that season,” Joseba Etxeberria is your new hero.

And just to twist the knife further, guess who’s getting paid $1.26 million this year:

Allan Houston