Friday, March 22, 2013

the last book I ever read (The Big O by Oscar Robertson, excerpt twelve)

from The Big O: My Life, My Times, My Game by Oscar Robertson:

In early 1964, Jack Twyman came to me. Jack was part of the inner circle of the National Basketball Players Association (NBPA), a fledgling union advocating players’ rights. Playing conditions at that time just weren’t appropriate for a professional league. Players didn’t have health insurance. We always stayed in second-class hotels. Teams refused to send their trainers on road trips. Players didn’t get paid for preseason. And after the all-star game, you didn’t even have twenty-four hours before the season started back up. Jack came to me because drastic changes were necessary. He wanted to know if I’d take over the job of the Royals’ team rep to the players union.

The history of the problems between players and owners was long and complicated. Bob Cousy had helped start the union in 1954. That year, players openly threatened to strike on the afternoon of the all-star game. An immediate meeting with league president Maurice Podoloff led to various improvements concerning contract and playing conditions, and an agreement was made to start an unofficial pension plan, in which teams matched the players’ contributions. The owners agreed to the legitimacy of the players union, and the players agreed to further negotiate matters of conflict. The game went on as planned.

But the league’s promise wasn’t kept; there was virtually no headway in making the unofficial pension plan official. Whenever union leaders tried to meet Podoloff, he stalled. Whenever he made a public statement on a labor matter, it was a lie. This happened for six, seven years. More than a few owners thought they were doing players a favor by having us out there, playing in front of people. Some players were signed for five thousand dollars—the same salary a guy would get for delivering mail. If an owner did not like a player for personal reasons, they got rid of him. Meanwhile, we were busting our asses up and down the courts every night, running our bodies into the ground, then traveling and living in pathetic conditions. It reached a point when players could not help but view what Podoloff and the owners were doing as anything but cold, calculating delays and lies. Keeping us at bay, patting us on the head, and paying us with pennies, even as they kept cashing checks written in our sweat and blood.

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