Monday, October 24, 2011

NBA Lockout: Lessons From the History of NBA Labor, Part 1

Three lessons from the History of NBA Labor teaches plenty about the impact of race, superstars and referees on the National Basketball Players Association.

NBPA Was the First Union In Pro Sports?
In 1954, Bob Cousy, the league's top player, began to organize the NBPA, which would become the first team sports player's union.”

This was an interesting claim since Wikipedia reports player associations in Major League baseball date back to the 19th century and the MLBPA was founded in 1953. However, the MLBPA website states it didn’t become a labor union in 1966.
“Podoloff and league owners continued to put off the players until Cousy met with AFL-CIO officials over possible union affiliation in January of 1957. The league then agreed to bargain in good faith with the players union following the season. In April, the NBA Board of Governors formally recognized the NBPA and agreed to their terms...”
The NBA recognized the NBPA “as the exclusive, certified labor union representative of all NBA players” in 1964.

The NBPA has a two-to-nine-year head start on the MLBPA (props to Adena Andrews for helping to sort this out), but gets less respect for its collective bargaining acumen from fans and analysts in the media even when they use the same strategy.

Why is that? As Neely Fuller Jr. said, “If you do not understand white supremacy (racism)—what it is and how it works—everything else you know will only confuse you.”

That’s something LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh understand.

NBPA Been Run By Superstars Since the Beginning
“Cousy began by writing to an established player from each of the league's teams (Paul Arizin of Philadelphia, Carl Braun of New York, Bob Davies of Rochester, Paul Hoffman of Baltimore, Andy Phillip of Fort Wayne, Pollard, Dolph Schayes of Syracuse and Don Sunderlage of Milwaukee) in hopes of encouraging solidarity among the players.”

It should be no surprise that star players like Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Kobe Bryant put an end to the notion the NBPA would accept 50 percent of basketball-related income after receiving 57 percent in the last CBA, or that LeBron reportedly told them to hold firm at 53 percent after Wade put commissioner David Stern in his place.

Negative changes to the players’ share of BRI disproportionately affect the stars, while negative changes to the luxury tax, salary cap and contract length disproportionately affects the role players. It’s the politics of the NBPA.

56 Years of Referee Beefs
One of the NBPA’s initial demands that Cousy went to commissioner Maurice Podoloff with was, “abolition of the $15 "whispering fine" which referees could impose on a player during a game”.

Fast-forward to the 2007 season, when the NBPA filed a case with the National Labor Relations Board against the NBA about a zero-tolerance policy for griping to the refs, and the 2011 season when NBPA Executive Director Billy Hunter promised to take legal action regarding the new technical foul policy imposed by the NBA under the guise of "respect for the game" (see this AP story for details).

Wade finished in the top 10 in technical fouls last season with 12. LeBron and Zydrunas Ilgauskas finished in the top 30 with seven.

Here's an example of a terrible tech called on LeBron last season.

In 2010, Wade finished in the top 20 with nine techs while LeBron finished outside the top 60 with four techs. See

There's plenty to negotiate in the current lockout beyond BRI and salary cap issues.

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