NBA Players’ Union Scores a Big One

In all the noise about LA Clippers’ owner Donald Sterling’s vile racism, it seems like one really vital aspect is being overlooked—the power of a Union, the power of collective action.

There’s been much said about new NBA Commissioner Adam Silver “stepping up” and doing what should have been done long ago. He has been congratulated so many times in the media that you would think he “led the charge.” But NBA Players’ Association Executive Vice President Roger Mason told it like it is—in the first big press conference right after the announcement that Sterling was being thrown out of professional basketball, and that he was being fined $2.5 million, Mason let the cat out of the bag—he said that the players had threatened to “BOYCOTT” all NBA games if Sterling was not given the maximum penalty possible.

Let’s not miss the import of this—NBA Commissioner David Stern let Sterling float along for decades as an upfront outspoken racist and bigot, because the Commissioner works for the owners, and the owners didn’t see any reason to censure Sterling just because he has the mentality of a 19th century slaveholder (own them, use them, exploit them, even date them, but don’t let them in the house and surely don’t be seen in public with them).

The new ingredient this time was not the new Commissioner—the new ingredient was the Players’ Union entering into immediate negotiations with the owners.  The Players’ Union appointed Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson to be their spokesperson, and they demanded a seat at the table. Their power, their united determination to bring the axe down on Sterling, is what made this whole chapter so strikingly different from prior chapters. Johnson praised the “cooperation” between labor and management, he gave encomiums to all concerned, but what he focused on was that the League and the Union worked together—translation: the new Commissioner knew he would NOT HAVE A LEAGUE if he did not come down with the axe!

Hats off to the Players’ Association. They are an example for us all. This is what a Union can achieve when it stands together and threatens the ultimate—a total withdrawal of labor and services—a strike and boycott.

By Bill Sokol | May 6, 2014

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