Big O: LeBron Would ‘Excel’ As NBPA Prez

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LeBron James is said to be “mulling” making a bid for the presidency of the NBA players association.

Oscar Robertson held that post longer than any NBA player in history.

To this day, Robertson remains the biggest name to have served his fellow players in that capacity. And as one of the game’s true Olympian figures, Robertson cannot imagine a better candidate than James, who is on his way to similar heights.

“Yeah, he’d have to think about it — I think he would have an excellent situation,” Robertson said in a phone interview Thursday evening. “I think if he was president of the players [union], he would excel like he does on the basketball court. I guess, maybe now with all the advice and the consultants and things, it would be a different situation.”

Robertson, the NBA’s legendary “Big O” during his Hall of Fame career in Cincinnati and Milwaukee, served as president of the National Basketball Players Association from 1965 to his retirement in 1974. Those were some of the league’s, and the union’s, most tumultuous years, when the two sides hammered out the makings of today’s so-called “player-owner partnership” mostly by colliding repeatedly into each other.

Big O key in early labor battles

Organized by Celtics great Bob Cousy in 1954 and further established by his Boston teammate Tom Heinsohn from 1958-65, the union in 1965 still was fighting for what now would be considered bare essentials: pay for preseason games, better medical care, the concept of an All-Star “break,” modest bumps in meal money and pensions, and a boost in the minimum player salary — out of FOUR figures. All of the strategies and jargon that were in play during the 2011 lockout, like cancelled games and filings with the National Labor Relations Board? Those were in play in the 1960s, too, when the NBPA’s power base was a lot more tenuous.

“Actually, I was naïve when I started,” Robertson said. “I didn’t know anything about it.  Sometimes it’s fate, what happens. So I just got involved. I didn’t know anything about the union whatsoever — I knew what it was because I was in it, but as far as how to run it, it was on-the-job training for me.”

The American Basketball Association (ABA) sprang up in 1967, exacerbating tensions between the NBA’s owners and the players. By 1970, with salaries bid ever higher and the two leagues in merger negotiations, the union filed an antitrust lawsuit to block such a move, given its impact on their employment and freedoms. The players sought to abolish the college draft and the option clause in standard contracts that bound them to their teams in perpetuity. Acrimony spiked, and a lawsuit in the matter soon became known for the union president’s name attached to it: the Oscar Robertson suit.

“I’m glad that I was a star,” Robertson recalled Thursday. “Because if I was a mediocre player, I wouldn’t have lasted very long. Because in those days, the league hated you as a player rep and they wanted to get rid of you.”

Robertson, now 74, wasn’t just a star. He was the LeBron James of his day (or vice versa). Many people know of him as the master of the triple-double — in 1961-62, he famously averaged at least 10 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists for an entire season. What too many neglect, of course, is that Robertson averaged 30.8 points along with those 12.5 rebounds and 11.4 assists.

Even fewer realize that the 6-foot-5, 205-pound guard averaged a triple-double over his first five seasons in the league: 30.2 ppg, 10.4 rpg and 10.6 apg in 384 appearances from 1960-61 through 1964-65.

Robertson’s game gave him a voice, not unlike James in Houston at All-Star weekend in February. On that Saturday, at the union’s membership meeting at the Hilton, James commanded the room by probing and leading the discussion of NBPA executive director Billy Hunter’s job performance and ethics, outgoing president Derek Fisher’s role, the members of the union’s executive committee and the very future of the association.

James and veteran Jerry Stackhouse, through their comments, questions and actions that afternoon, reportedly imposed order on a group spinning out of control. Stackhouse, who recently told FoxSports.com that the union hopes to name a replacement for Hunter (and acting director Ron Klempner) sometime after Christmas, isn’t expected to be active as a player this season.

But James’ star power as a possible NBPA president could boost the union’s credibility and impact.

Stars have tradition of taking NBPA spotlight

The star-driven NBA has had, for more than a decade, a union driven by role players. What Cousy, Heinsohn and Robertson began, others such as Bob Lanier, Isiah Thomas and Patrick Ewing continued. But since 2001, Michael Curry (2001-05), Antonio Davis (2005-06) and Fisher (2006-present) have headed the NBPA.

Through the union’s first 47 years, 10 players served as president; seven wound up in the Hall of Fame and the 10 combined for 75 All-Star selections. In the past 13 years, Davis’ 2001 All-Star appearance stands alone. None of the last three presidents is headed to Springfield.

That didn’t preclude them from being effective — Fisher worked tirelessly and often thanklessly through the prickly lockout two years ago. But the clout that comes with star status — James has two NBA titles with the Heat, four MVPs, Olympic gold and more — can help immensely, Robertson said.

“I felt I commanded a lot of respect from a lot of different ball players, when you say something to the guys,” Robertson said. “And if you’re friendly with ‘em, other than playing basketball, it will help also.”

Finding NBA stars willing to take on the role, while sacrificing time and outside earning opportunities, has gotten more difficult. Robertson thinks it has something to do with the stakes these days.

“That’s always been [an apathy] problem with some guys,” he said. “But you look at it over the years, with all of the problems they’ve had, a lot of players because they’re making money, they just don’t get involved. They don’t need to — it might hurt you selling a pair of shoes or a headband or something.”

Robertson: NBPA prez a job of ‘sacrifice’

People can debate the merits of a union president who dominates All-NBA teams vs. one who relates (and earns similarly) to the league’s middle class. Either version will wind up logging long hours. “There’s no doubt about it, it’s a sacrifice,” Robertson said. “Especially if you do a good job. If you do the job [the way] they’re going to have confidence in you, sometimes it gets a little lonely. Until something happens.

“I didn’t think about whether it was hard or not [to make time]. It was an opportunity. There was an awful lot going on when I was with the players association, a lot of changes that needed to be done. Some we did right, some we didn’t.”

Robertson is proud of the gains achieved by the NBPA during his tenure. The Robertson lawsuit triggered negotiations that led to free agency, as well as a settlement that paid more than $4 million to then-current players and another $1 million in union legal fees. Pensions improved and the minimum salary tripled on his watch.

Only a handful of his peers or players since have thanked him for his service, Robertson said (“But I didn’t do it for that anyway”). He also said he paid a professional price. Robertson was dropped after one season as color analyst on the NBA’s network telecasts because, legend has it, some owners bristled at such a prominent role for the player who sued them.

On the other side of the ledger, however, Robertson points to the strides they all made. “Look at the money guys are making now,” he said. “Look at the [charter-jet, luxury-hotel] travel. There’s an orthopedic doctor at the games. You get better meal money. You have a right to go to other teams if you don’t have a valid and existing contract with your team.

“There’s no doubt about it — we were there during some [pivotal] years for the NBA.”

So there are some of the pros and cons, in Robertson’s view, as James mulls a potential candidacy: The time commitment, the opportunities skipped, the politics involved, knowing when to delegate and so on. The Hall of Famer said he would be willing to advise James, if asked. Also, Robertson’s old friend Jim Quinn — the attorney who worked on the lawsuit four decades ago and helped broker the lockout settlement 20 months ago — is again working with the NBPA in its search for Hunter’s replacement.

The union’s greatest challenge now? “Getting rid of personality tiffs. That kills you,” Robertson said.

“Somebody gets upset … because somebody doesn’t like what you’re doing, and they start this current going against you. A lot of players, when they start to make millions of dollars and they get agents who also are afraid to have their little nest egg cut off, that’s what happens.”

James, through force of personality and basketball superiority, might be the right choice to stem that.

53 Comments

  1. zulu says:

    Whomever the PLAYERS select to lead their union. The task will be compounded by two factors that have become prominent since the Big O and others laid a great foundation. Agents & ESPN.

  2. Chiraq says:

    NBPA

  3. Chiraq says:

    It’s funny how people keep claiming that the man has no college degree. Last time I checked neither does Bill Gates,Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckerberg, Lawrence Ellison, Micheal Dell, etc. The point of the matter is that you don’t need a college degree to show leadership. What you need is experience and who better than someone who deals with the day to day issues with being an NBA player. The men listed above run fortune 500 companies without a college degree. If you put your mind to anything than it is achievable reguardless of your educational background. I feel Lebron would do an excellent job being the new NBAPA Prez.

  4. Joe Gambitta says:

    You never let rich people be union representatives for people who make millions less money than the “rep”. It’s a conflict of interest. Lebron as union rep is going to favor the owners since he is in their tax bracket and not even close to what the others earn(talkin about all earnings not just from the nba) good luck, worship the rich. The rich must be qualified they have made a lot of money. The money supposedly validates them, lack of subject knowledge is not a concern when you are rich. This guy hardly finished high school. I wouldn’t want him to represent my interests, ever!

  5. qdqqs says:

    How can lebron have the time for this? he should focus on basketball for now, and do stuff like this later.

  6. dwaRon josh says:

    lebron haters….hate until the end of the world…lols

  7. yolo says:

    what does it mean to be the president of NBPA? what would james job be? im european so it dont know much about this stuff. does he represent all the players in the nba in some way?

  8. LemW says:

    Why would LeBron James take a job that Derek Fisher get no credit ? The NBA lockout and Billy Hunter were challenging tasks. Job replacement insinuate poor performance.

  9. Jonathan says:

    I feel Lebron would be a good candidate for nbpa, but a better choice would be a much older guy like Steve Nash, Kevin Garnett, Tim Duncan. The would have more experience through Lebron probably has at this point of their respected careers.

  10. Miles10 says:

    I have my doubt on how well Lebron could fulfill that role. It’s not that I’m negative about him, only I think there are more players who could really represent NBPA much better. There are more intellectually oriented players. I guess I don’t need to mention names (some of which are so-so players on-court) because I have no voice in the NBPA in the first place lol.

  11. MattSyd says:

    I second that notion. Javale McGee for president

    • Symm says:

      I think we can all agree Javale McGee would be the most entertaining, and therefore best, option for NBAPA President.

  12. harry pottty says:

    One: I hate everyone saying LeBron is a flopper, Miami has more floppers then LeBron, umm bosh, battier,……. flopping unfortunately has become a part of nba basketball its a loop hole to get a foul without actually putting your body on the line, everyone does it not only LeBron so get of his back about that, secondly I don’t think LeBron is the candidate for the job, yes he is the best player in the nba currently, however his focus is now, his focus is a championship all of his time is dedicated to that goal, attending meetings , and being an office time personality is not lebrons forte right now, however in a few years it may very well be, the best man for the job right now is kobe, even though his people skills and reputation (raping_colarado springs) aint the best he is the man for the job ove bron, haters move along

  13. HuangKai says:

    Yeah I think maybe Lebron is a good player but the president is not suitable for him

  14. Orlando Lopez says:

    Im a heat fan and i hope he doesn’t do this he don’t need any more responsibility.this job is a headache he has enough heat to deal whith

  15. LemW says:

    What may seem great in concept maybe bad in practice. Oscar Robertson is human and is acceptable to this thinking too. Now if Lebron James puts an additional responsibility on his plate, I would not do it because “The Big O” said so. I would use wisdom. Savannah Brinson is a part of LeBron James’ wisdom.

  16. NBA FAN says:

    JAVALE McGee ALL DAY!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  17. Tim says:

    Why not. He did proof his leadership in Miami Heat.

  18. William Gates says:

    Yeah the last time I checked most of the people commenting on this article are not players in the league or even in a union. What do you know about the salary scale, endorsement contracts, television deals ,the overseas market, and profit sharing ? I would bet that Lebron has more experience in those areas than most if not all of the people commenting on this article combined.

  19. voiceofreason says:

    funny how he did a half scoff when the lady said “he might go back to Cleveland.”

    • LebronFan says:

      he just might…. they have a pretty great team building up.
      and they can pay him and keep all the young players for at least a couple more years

  20. Mik says:

    Lebron, not the chosen one for this job,

  21. c2 says:

    Big NO!…traitors does not qualify for the job!

  22. Jimmy Buckets says:

    Dood did they seriously just re-headline this article…Lebron is pretty fake in interviews that being said he needs to be quiet and play ball

  23. Bane says:

    next President of NBPA?and what’s next?the next MIAMI Head Coach(playing couch)?Referee?the next NBA Commissioner?My point is he may be the best player in the league but it doesn’t mean he can handle everything.

  24. Matt says:

    Definitely a no from me. LeBron is a good player but to be the NBPA prez you’ve got to be smart, answer questions correctly, listen to everybody etc. I doubt LeBron has such time on his hands, put a player that doesn’t spend his whole day on instagram and that has a college degree.

  25. Being president is not only how good you are in putting the ball in the hole. There are a lot of guys that finish 4 years in college. Nothing beats like a good education and graduated. High school graduate are not qualified to handle the president must accomplished.

  26. Rickey green says:

    I think Lebron would be a great president of the NBAPA because of his star power and his great knowledge of his history of the game

  27. White Mamba says:

    I’d go for Jeremy Lin. Any objection on that???

  28. William Gates says:

    Lebron would be a good choice even though people hate on him a lot . He can make the tough decisions and understands a players value to the league and its sponsors. He pretty much is a mentor to the younger guys that come in the league who go though his skill academy during the summer. He is visible in the overseas market and the 2nd highest paid american athlete you don’t have to have college degree to be successful in business. I think he is the ideal choice. The only problem is that he is a very busy guy .

  29. Zachdude34 says:

    The guy without the college education gets suggested for the job. Wow.

    • 0_o? says:

      and this guy without college education has more earnings than you, your son, grandson, son of your grandson etc. could ever have…..idiot..

      • qq says:

        yes because he is an talented athlete, doesent mean he can do a job like this based on his earnings. idiot.

  30. Pasha says:

    President should be clever!!!

  31. Alex Shreve says:

    This man isnt nearly intelligent enough, and he is extremely self centered and arrogant. He would be a horrible choice. His talent on the court does nothing in this position. Scalabrine would do great, so would a steve nash, maybe kobe, pierce, ect.

  32. f2tooo says:

    Javale McGee for president !!!!

  33. AkronsBig Mike #1 fan says:

    I know it’s in his heart to look after everybody, but you can’t pleases everybody and some who you thank that you are closes to will hurt you. Take it from someone with much experience with union brothers. They will break your heart.

  34. Bruiser Brody says:

    I heard when his shoulder was tapped for the job, he fell on the floor & was looking for a foul.

    • Javier rubio says:

      Who has 2 championships 4 mvps

      • Bruiser Brody says:

        I wasnt aware there was a championship for flopping much less a mvp (most valuable pflopper).

    • bball247 says:

      During the lockout many PLAYERS said that when LeBron James spoke in their meeting they were impressed with his leadership skills and motivated them in their business dealings.

      And if you have played the game, or know the game… outside of Shaq no one in the modern age has taken more of a beating than Lebron going to the paint. Refs don’t know how to call it when someone so strong is being hammered but it doesn’t impede his momentum or trajectory.

      I wonder if people go to sleep despising James, dream of him, and then wake up with his demise as the first thing on their mind. Doesn’t hating the man just get old?

      • bball247 says:

        i know i dream of LeBron, he is a good looking guy. I wish he would play with me, one on one;) i am a bit of a chocaholic.

    • Inamo says:

      truth! LOL

  35. B Radd says:

    Should the best player in the game be the NBPA president? I think the most involved player should be the NBPA president. If he can answer the tough question and be aggressive for those who aren’t as talented and the ability to lead, pursuade and bring justice to those that cannot fend for themselves, I guess he our man…

  36. ozz says:

    nah.. its gonna be d fish

  37. soldier king says:

    interesting