If Hunter Makes This A Racial Issue, We Will All Lose In The End

By Gregory Moore
Updated: May 20, 2005

SAN ANTONIO – I am going to go on record and say that there is a new definition for the word “jack ass” and that word is Billy Hunter, the NBA Players Association’s executive director. Why am I calling a man that I have never met a word that is so divisive at a time when there is already a racial strain between two communities? Because instead of Hunter trying to help qualm the fears of a lockout and to help the hundreds of young men who will be coming into the league several years down the road, he has let his warped sense of pride dictate to him that the league is racist in wanting to implement an age limit in the next collective bargaining agreement and he has decided to take this ploy full circle. Well thanks a lot Hunter for now making my job a hell of a lot easier to those who would have sided with you. You and so many others in your group have now officially just showed the country why they can care less about hockey and they will definitely care less about a bunch of Black men who may be out of work on July 1st of this year. Should any of us be surprised if this happens? Not in the least but if you think this league will survive another lockout, you are sadly mistaken.

There really shouldn’t be this hard of a negotiation on a new collective bargaining agreement between the league and the union. From the outset, there is a strong framework already in existence and that is the current agreement that they are operating up under. From this layman’s point of view, both sides should be able to look at the projected growth numbers and formulas that would make up the Basketball Related Income quotient and then set a new deal from there. Sounds simple because in essence it probably is. We all know that the NBA is a billion dollar entity and that the players deserve to continue getting their 54% of the pie. Russ Granik, Hunter and those who will be in the negotiations shouldn’t even be sweating over this deal. Work out a farmable model right now to deal from and then work on the bigger issues ahead; the age limit boondoggle.

AGE LIMIT STIPULATION NEEDS TO WORK IN CONJUNCTION WITH THE NBDL Hunter and others of his mindset think that this age limit provision would hamper the hundreds of young men who could come into the league. I have never understood how a veteran like Jermaine O’Neal would think it would be wise to let an unproven 18-year-old come in and steal a veteran’s job but then I have to remember that he was in that position as the youngster. I know that there are some great 18-year-old talents out there that will remind us why LeBron James is King James in certain markets. However I have always been one to subscribe to the notion that if you are myopic enough to believe that a teenager has plenty of upside, then he also has the ability to have plenty of downside too. Hunter should be able to see such things but because he is so close minded to that possibility and he has brainwashed a few of the younger members into that notion that setting an age limit is racially motivated, the process may never be able to work in a fashion that would benefit everyone. What is that process? How about tying the age limit stipulation to the NBDL minor league system.

I am quite sure that there have been editorials, stories and even pundits saying that such a deal should be done and I’m going to add my take to this situation as well. If the league and the union want to see what a working model looks like, all they have to do is look at what Major League Baseball already has in place with their farm system. Teams that know how to successfully use their farm system in baseball become prolific teams that win championships. The Atlanta Braves and the New York Yankees were such ball clubs at one time. They were constant contenders during their run to World Series wins and appearances. The Braves had been touted as one team in the early to mid 1990s that knew how to groom their farm players into big time hitters. The Yankees were fortunate to have guys like Derek Jeter come up in their system and make an immediate impact once called up. So what is wrong with the NBA doing the same thing by using their own developmental league and then use a series of independent leagues to help funnel fresh talent to the NBA? Nothing is wrong according to my simple mind.

If this stance was taken and if Hunter and his minions really wanted to help the under 21 year old players, he would look at this model and learn from it. Even in hockey their minor league system produces stars. Basketball’s version could work just as easily because it would afford teams to get good looks at these young prospects. Without trying to steal anyone’s ideas, here is how my plan would work.

Let’s say that the NBDL goes to fifteen teams. That means for every two NBA teams, there is one NBDL team. When the NBA holds its draft, each club could actually designate which player or players would be on those rosters. The roster size on these minor league teams would be the same for the NBA and the rules would be the same as well. How can you develop a player if he doesn’t know your system? On those rosters four players could actually be from the NBA teams affiliated with it. That would leave eight slots open to unrestricted free agents and other players. If I am not mistaken there might be some loose agreement like that right now between these two entities.

Now when it comes to actually assigning players, the NBA could actually call players up or send their projects back down during the regular season but that player must have played at least ten games with the NBDL team he assigned to first. Then as the season goes, when a player gets injured on the NBA roster, that player could be called up for ten day contracts beginning in December and but that right to do so would end before the all-star break. The season for the NBDL team would end about March and that would give these players a chance to actually recuperate from their season and then become familiar with what the NBA is all about. Even though the NBA teams would not be able to use them in their stretch run for the playoffs, they could bring these players in to develop them in practice settings.

Probably the biggest question to if this could work would be the salaries of these players and that is where the league needs to come in and up the ante just a little bit. NBDL players should be getting paid $50,000 – $75,000 a season. The union should be able to help these players with junior memberships and some benefits for them. Basic health and life insurance benefits should be the same across the board for both the NBA and NBDL players and financial services along with educational services should be offered to the NBDL players. In other words the NBA needs to step up their commitment to this project to make it enticing to help implement an age limit plan because the only way the union may accept such a notion is if it knows that the players who do not make it to the NBA would be afforded the opportunity to come into the league through the back door.

Maybe my plan wouldn’t work at all but at least I think it would be workable to a solution that is already in place. The union needs to back off their racial pious stance and realize that if they don’t help the league implement something that already protects the young players in the league, this league will go down the toilet faster than anything the sports world has seen in recent years. The way Hunter is posturing himself and this union right now doesn’t sit well with anyone. These ball players aren’t slaves and race has nothing to do with it. If Hunter would take a good look at his own skin, he’d realize that many of the very young men he is filling that nonsense about keeping 18-year-olds out is racist is nothing more than a warp sense of entitlement that he feels that these players, especially Black players, have earned. Well let me say that playing a professional sport is a privilege. Hunter’s job is a privilege. It’s a privilege that could be taken away very quickly and if the union doesn’t want another lockout like they had in 1998, the players themselves better remember quickly what they already have and what is at stake.

In the end, if there is a lockout, the fans won’t give a rat’s behind as who was wrong or who was right. Just like I could call Hunter a proverbial jackass for taking such a ridiculous stance, I can almost say with certainty that there will be others who will call players, owners and the league that very same word on July 2nd. Heed the warning Billy Hunter and learn from the mistakes of 1998. There is a good framework already in place. Help Russ Granik and the league develop a true minor league system for the NBA and this age limit stipulation becomes a moot point. It becomes moot because the minor league system grooms the very 18-year-olds you want to put into battle without any training. If Hunter cannot see that point, then he truly would be my 2005 jackass of the year. He’d be that because he could have stopped a lockout just as easy has his counterpart. In the end we would all lose if that happened but I seriously doubt we’d really care. Fans simply don’t like greedy people and right now everyone involved in this looks like greedy, sniveling brats.