Why Pros Don't Love Basketball Anymore

Money makes everything better, right? Psychology says no. In particular, the overjustification effect directly contradicts this idea.  

The overjustification effect can be summarized as the following: Rewards turn play into work.

Roy Baumeister touched on this topic in his illuminating book Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength: “studies have shown that when people are paid to do the things they like to do, they start to regard the task as paid drudgery.”

Why does this happen? At first glance, it doesn’t make sense. If I paid you to do something that you love, you’d think that extra reward would make that activity even more fun. 

The answer has to do with a shift in why we’re doing that activity at all. Our motivation changes.

To clarify, let’s take a look at professional basketball players. What happens when players transfer from college to the pros and start getting paid? 

2 Questions

1) Do players exhibit the symptoms of the overjustifcation effect when they suddenly are getting paid to play? 

2) If yes, what causes the negative effects?

Question 1: Do Pro Players Treat Playing as a Chore?

Yes. I’ve seen it up close. For most guys, going to the gym becomes something you have to do rather than get to do.

It's sad to see the transformation from passionate college players to cynical pro players.

Not everyone makes this transformation. There are plenty of pro guys who still find enjoyment in playing for its own sake. But for a lot of pros, basketball becomes, as Baumeister put it, “paid drudgery."

Question 2) What Causes Pro Players to View Basketball as “Paid Drudgery?"

The reason pros seem to enjoy basketball less than college or high school players is because of a shift in motivation

Introducing an extrinsic reward shifts motivation extrinsically. Instead of being motivated by the intrinsic reward (joy in playing basketball for its own sake), pro players become motivated by the extrinsic reward (money).

Money undermines the pleasure we get from playing basketball. 

This is one reason why guys tend to stop working as hard when they reach the pros. They lose their internal passion for the game when money gets involved.


Alas, research shows that once the overjustification effect is introduced, intrinsic motivation is lost and cannot be regained. When you start paying someone to play, you have to keep paying them to keep them motivated.

I wish I had a positive, uplifting message to end this post with. Some silver bullet to counteract the overjustification effect. But I don’t. 

So here’s a video of a baby getting buckets to cheer you up instead.