Posts Tagged ‘Curt Flood’

Robertson, Haywood honored as heroes for NBA player-rights fights

CHICAGO – At midnight, when NBA free agency begins anew and unleashes another rush of multi-million dollar contracts, it’s unlikely that any of the current beneficiaries or their agents will take a moment to think about Oscar Robertson.

But that’s OK, because Robertson won’t be thinking of himself, either. Instead, the Hall of Famer and triple-double legend, will have a good thought or two for Curt Flood.

Robertson is the former NBA star and president of the players association whose landmark class-action, anti-trust lawsuit in 1976 paved the way to NBA free agency. Flood was the St. Louis Cardinals outfielder who, six years earlier, tried to take on Major League Baseball’s reserve clause as an individual. His unsuccessful legal fight effectively ended his career and Flood never reaped any benefits from the freedom that came, in MLB’s case, in 1975 with an abitrator’s ruling in the union-backed challenge from pitchers Andy Messersmith and Dave McNally.

The courage of both men – back in the day, many considered it to be temerity – comes together Tuesday night when Robertson becomes the inaugural recipient of the Curt Flood Game-Changer Award, presented by the Rainbow PUSH Coalition. That group’s Sports Banquet is part of the annual PUSH Expo that started Saturday and runs through Wednesday.

Also at the banquet, NBA legend Spencer Haywood will receive the “Jackie Robinson Trailblazer Award” for his court challenge in 1970 that led to underclassman-eligibility rights.

Rev. Jesse Jackson, who founded the Chicao-based, multi-racial, progressive organization in 1996, spoke with NBA.com over the weekend about the Robertson’s and Haywood’s honors.

“When Curt Flood filed a lawsuit providing for free agency and the freedom to negotiate in the marketplace, many players hid from their own freedom,” Jackson said. “Oscar Robertson stood up and supported the Curt Flood suit.

“His records have endured – the triple-doubles and the like – and he was a force in the NBA as we know it. Oscar Robertson carried himself with a sense of dignity and character on the floor and beyond the playing courts. … He’s paid a huge price for standing up.”

Flood’s actions pave way for free agency

Robertson has talked previously of the price he feels he has paid in NBA opportunities since his playing days. He has seen contemporaries such as Jerry West, Elgin Baylor, Bill Russell, Willis Reed and his old teammate Wayne Embry carve out careers in teams’ front offices, while plenty of others have had enduring roles as broadcast analysts. Robertson lasted just one season on CBS’s national telecasts in 1974-75, his first upon retiring, and believes the league’s owners – the men he and the NBPA sued – blocked him from any continued work.

That pales, in Robertson’s opinion, to the price paid by Flood. The three-time All-Star and perennial Gold Glove winner next to Lou Brock in St. Louis’ outfield balked when he was traded to Philadelphia after the 1969 season. He missed the entire 1970 season while bucking the reserve clause, which bound players “for life” to the clubs that first signed them.

“I do not feel I am a piece of property to be bought and sold,” Flood told then-MLB commissioner Bowie Kuhn.

Flood’s lawsuit was heard and rejected three times, ultimately by the Supreme Court in March 1972 by a 5-3 vote. But with the pressure it brought on MLB and the growing strength of the union led by director Marvin Miller, Flood’s case opened the first cracks of player freedom. In fact, in 1973, baseball’s new 10/5 rule (allowing 10-year veterans who had spent five with their current clubs to veto trades) became known as the “Curt Flood Rule.”

Flood’s skills and health, however, eroded in his year out of baseball. His battle with alcohol worsened, some outside business ventures ran afoul of IRS codes – Flood’s top Cardinals salary was $90,000 – and he sagged under racist hate mail and threats not unlike those heaped on Henry Aaron a few years later. (more…)