Several retired NBA players will gather in New York today to make a public, restrained, conciliatory appeal to those, such as Michael Jordan, who are bent on decertifying the players association: don't do it.
One retired player who wishes he could be there, but can't, has a decidedly more direct approach. "I would tell Michael Jordan that he is selfish, greedy, that his agent is selfish and greedy, and that he and his ilk aren't kidding anybody," former Boston Celtic Tommy Heinsohn said yesterday.
"This is awful," Heinsohn went on. "They have abandoned the people who busted their asses and tried to preserve the game. Michael Jordan and his ilk think they are the be-all and end-all. He's never bothered to find out what the union is all about. Well, he should. Because a lot of ex-players who paved the way for the game he is trying to rape are concerned."
Heinsohn has a definite bias. He was in on the ground floor when the NBA players unionized in the mid-1950s. He was there in 1964, when the game's top players refused to take the floor in Boston Garden for the annual All-Star Game unless they were guaranteed a pension. He served as the union president for seven years before retiring in 1965.
Jordan is one of many players who, upset with current players association director Simon Gourdine, have requested a decertification vote. Several prominent agents also are behind the move to decertify, equally upset with Gourdine for not keeping them abreast of the negotiations with the league.
Gourdine and NBA commissioner David Stern negotiated a new, seven-year collective bargaining agreement last month. Stern took it to the owners for a vote and it was unanimously approved.
Gourdine had no such luck with the players, many of whom did not know the details of the agreement and, understandably, wanted more time. No vote was taken and the push for decertification, which already had begun, continued. There will be a hearing next month that may produce a date for a decertification vote. In the meantime, with no agreement, the NBA instituted a lockout on July 1.
The NBA Retired Players Association is behind the event in New York and has enlisted the support of Oscar Robertson, Bob Pettit, Dave Bing and Bob Cousy. All four, along with Dave DeBusschere, are scheduled to attend the briefing at the Sheraton-Manhattan.
"I am going to be briefed when I get there, but if what I hear and read is accurate this is an outrageous attempt by the agents and their players to overthrow what we started 40 years ago and what has worked pretty well," said Cousy, who started the union in 1955. "I'm just upset with what appears to be blind, naked greed and an attempt to upset the status quo all in the quest for more. And for people who already have enough."
Cousy is particularly concerned about the effects of decertification on pensions for players who retired before 1965 -- players who, until a couple of years ago, received nothing. He said the recent agreement contained language to increase the pension for the pre-1965 players and that the money came from the players, not the owners. With no union, that increase would not be available.
Both Cousy and Heinsohn recalled how hard it was simply to get official recognition for the union in the 1950s and 1960s. Cousy said one of his earliest successes was getting meal money increased from $5 to $7.
"What these guys are doing is taking this thing into the Dark Ages," Heinsohn said. "If they want to go back to what it was like when the union wasn't recognized, well, they don't have a clue what they're doing. They don't know bad it can get."