Posts Tagged ‘Jim Quinn’

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.

We Have (The Makings Of) A Deal!

– For labor updates, follow: @daldridgetnt | @AschNBA

NBA.com’s Labor Central

After 15 hours of negotiations Friday-into-Saturday –- and 149 days of lockout start to finish -– representatives of the NBA owners and players reached a tentative deal on settling their various lawsuits that should lead to a new collective bargaining agreement that will salvage a shortened 2011-12 season beginning on Christmas Day.

Details of what will become a new labor contract still were vague when the meeting ended after 3 a.m. ET at a New York law office. But the bones of a deal reportedly call for the players to receive a “band” share of basketball-related income ranging from 49 percent to 51 percent depending on the league’s growth (with a more reasonable shot at 51 than in previous offers). A laundry list of system issues, meanwhile, are intended to make the NBA more competitive across its 30 teams.

NBA commissioner David Stern and Billy Hunter, the former executive director of the players’ former union, met with reporters in an impromptu joint news conference shortly after the meeting.

“We’ve reached a tentative understanding,” Stern said, “that is subject to a variety of approvals and very complex machinations. But we’re optimistic that will all come to pass and that the NBA season will begin on December 25th, Christmas Day, with a triple-header.

“We’re very pleased that we’ve come this far. There’s still a lot of work to be done in a lot of places, with a lot of committees and player groups and the like. But we’re optimistic that it will hold and we’ll have ourselves an NBA season.

Stern said the owners’ labor relations committee would be briefed Saturday, with the agreement passing then to the overall Board of Governors. The commissioner said he expects both bodies to endorse the deal.

Said Hunter: “We’re going to turn it all over to the lawyers here and have them work out all the details. We’ll be able to then talk with you further as that process proceeds.” It could take a week to 10 days for the players to re-form their union and ratify a formal CBA.

Stern and Hunter did share a few details on the shortened season. A 66-game regular-season schedule, first reported by the New York Times Wednesday, is likely, pushing the start of a full playoff bracket a week or so later into spring. The plan is for training camps and free agency to both begin on Dec. 9, though details remained sketchy. All-Star Weekend in Orlando, initially set for Feb. 24-26, is expected to be preserved.

Technically, the talks that stretched from noon Friday into the wee hours Saturday were aimed at settling the antitrust lawsuit filed last week by the players when they dissolved their union. But the essence of that settlement will serve as the new CBA, assuming remaining “B-list” issues are worked out, lawsuits by both the players and the league (anticipating the union’s disclaimer of interest) get dismissed, the union gets re-formed with the league’s approval and the deal is ratified by both the NBA’s 30 owners and its 430-plus players.

The “A-list” issues, though, were the ones that had hung up the season, forcing what will be an opening night delayed by 55 days. They’re the ones that caused bargaining to break down Nov. 14 and they’re the ones that needed to be addressed to both sides’ satisfaction –- or tolerable dissatisfaction -– for the tentative agreement to get struck.

Finding middle ground on those was key. Among them:

– The mid-level exception for non-taxpaying teams will have a maximum length of four years every season (instead of alternating at four years, then three years). Starting salary can be as much as $5 million.

– There apparently will be a “mini” MLE for taxpaying teams, restricting the amount they can offer to free agents.

– A 10 percent maximum escrow tax will be withheld without the unlimited “true up” amount requested by the owners in their previous offer.

– Extend-and-trade deals –- as used by Carmelo Anthony and the New York Knicks last season –- will be modified but not eliminated in a new CBA. That could impact players such as Orlando’s Dwight Howard and New Jersey’s Deron Williams.

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