By Bill Simmons
Page 2 columnist

Editor's Note: This column appears in the Jan. 5 edition of ESPN The Magazine.

Because it's the holidays, and this is allegedly a sports column, you might expect me to fill the space with a list of "wacky" gifts or "absurd" predictions for athletes. Well, I wouldn't do that to you. I hate gimmicks almost as much as I hate WNBA scores on the 10-minute ticker.

Tom Hicks
When Hicks bids against himself, does he do it in the mirror? On the phone?

Still, I think I'm allowed one sports wish for the upcoming year. And I think it should be something original and life-altering-not "I hope the Sox win the World Series" or even "I hope the right side of Wannstedt's mustache grows in." So I thought about wishing NBA coaches had to wear uniforms, if only to see Don Nelson on the Mavs bench in a 58XXXXL jersey. Then, I thought about wishing for the abolition of the DH, Warren Sapp interviews, sideline reporters and dugout cameras that bring you inside Joe Torre's nostrils. And finally, I thought about wishing football announcers would stop narrating replays like this: "I want you to watch something & watch how he makes this move, watch this ... BAM!"

In the end, I came up with something simple: my wish for 2004 is that owners stop acting so stupidly. Just for a year, just to see what it would be like. If you think about it, nearly every problem in pro sports happens because owners make worse decisions than the producers of Project Greenlight. Who signs off on insane contracts for the Bobby Holiks of the world? Who hires the Steve Spurriers, Rick Pitinos and Bob Whitsitts? Who allows World Series games to finish after Letterman (er, Kimmel)? And for godsakes, who thinks it's a good idea to keep NBA teams in Atlanta, New Jersey and Memphis?

In the week before Christmas, these two things were happening on the same day:

1. Rangers owner Tom Hicks was pushing A-Rod on Boston, to escape from his monstrosity of a contract. Okay, but who signed A-Rod to that $252 million deal? Who basically bid against himself to raise the price so high? Who screwed his team so badly, he may as well have signed 2Pac to play left field? Then, Hicks has the gall to ask for Manny and a prospect? Isn't that like Travolta asking for extra cash to do the commentary on the Battlefield Earth DVD? Only in baseball could someone be picky about the way he's saved from himself. It's really quite a sport.

2. USA Today released its annual list of NBA player salaries, the most eye-opening release of the year that doesn't feature Paris Hilton. There it is, in clean black type: Greg Ostertag will earn $8.66 million this season. On the bright side, it's about $6 million more than Evan Eschmeyer. Seattle pays Vitaly Potapenko, Calvin Booth and Jerome James more than San Antonio pays Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker combined. And if that doesn't make you puke on your Unseld throwback jersey, these guys earn more than $6 million too: Chris Mills; Alan Henderson; Tariq Abdul-Wahad; Austin Croshere; Eddie Robinson; Bobby Sura; Kelvin Cato; Ron Mercer; Wesley Person & and just about every stiff on the Knicks.

Rick Pitino
With the money the Celtics gave Pitino, he will be able to afford bad suits for years to come.

Here's the point: over the past few years, someone thought it was a good idea to give each of these guys that much money, just like Hicks thought overpaying for A-Rod was a brilliant move. But it doesn't stop there. What about the NHL ruining itself by overexpansion? Now it's a blue-collar sport without a decent TV deal that has priced out its fans. And what about baseball evolving into English soccer, with only a handful of teams able to afford the best players?

When things go wrong, we blame the players, if only because they're the ones we see every day. Today, I'm blaming the owners. It's time they stop recklessly spending like rappers, then gouging us to make up for their mistakes. Guys, for once in your life, use common sense. Please. That's my wish.

Next year, I'll tackle football announcers. In the meantime, I want you to watch something & watch how I end this column. Watch this & BAM!

Bill Simmons is a columnist for Page 2 and ESPN The Magazine, as well as one of the writers for Jimmy Kimmel Live on ABC