Simon Gourdine’s most notable NBA moments came long before social media, but the former league and players association executive who died at age 72 would have had lit up Twitter, Facebook and other Internet outlets had they been around through Gourdine’s wildly divergent pro basketball incarnations.
A Manhattan native, lawyer and Harvard MBA who worked as an assistant district attorney in New York, Gourdine first linked up with the NBA in 1970 when NBA commissioner Walter Kennedy hired him as his in-house counsel. Gourdine was named NBA deputy commissioner in 1974, becoming the highest ranking African-American executive in sports at that time.
Alongside another young lawyer working for the league – guy named David Stern – under Larry O’Brien, Kennedy’s successor, Gourdine helped negotiate labor agreements with the players in 1976 and 1979. But when he felt his chances of succeeding O’Brien were fading, Gourdine left in 1981 to work for the Department of Consumer Affairs in New York City.
He returned to the NBA scene in 1990 on the other side of the bargaining table, as the National Basketball Players Association’s general counsel. When executive director Charles Grantham abruptly resigned in April 1995, Gourdine took over the top job and negotiated the labor deal that ended the 1995 lockout and instituted the NBA’s first rookie wage scale.
But Gourdine was forced out by a group of players and their agents, including Patrick Ewing and Michael Jordan, who felt the deal favored the owners and had urged the decertification of the union. They pressured the NBPA’s executive board to oust Gourdine despite a freshly signed two-year contract; an arbitration panel awarded him approximately $1 million in back pay and interest when it ruled he had been fired without cause. (more…)