By Harold Bell

NBA billionaires and millionaires play what could be a costly game of chicken.

NBA Commissioner David Stern has given the NBA Players an ultimatum:  “Agree to 50-50 split of revenues or the season is lost.  Stern said, “There comes a time when you have to be through negotiating, and we are.”

During labor negotiations HBO’s Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel called out NBA Commissioner David Stern and said “The Commissioner is an overseer of a plantation and that he considers the players his BOYS!”  NBA Union Attorney Jeffrey Kessler jumped on the band wagon and said almost the exact same thing!  He has since apologize but don’t expect the same from Mr. Gumbel.

Remember when NY Times newspaper sports columnist Bill Rhoden penned his book “Forty Million Dollar Slaves” several years ago, where was the outcry of racism?

Since the trial of NFL football great and legendary running back O. J. Simpson, this shout-out is simply known as “The Race Card.”  The card is often used when the deck runs out of Jokers and it can only be used in The Game Called Life!

The Jokers in this “Game of Chicken” are NBA Union Representative Billy Hunter and NBA Players Union President Derek Fisher—-who will blink first the owners or the union?

Have we forgotten in 1998 the players negotiated a salary cap between 53% and 57% of the NBA’s revenues (gate receipts, local and national television and radio revenue and preseason and postseason revenue + $500,000 a year in licensing revenue and a guarantee that the owners maintain 253 jobs even if there was a reduction in the number of teams?   This sounds like “Indian Givers,” first we give it to you and then decide we want it back!

How can you tell who is the boss and who is the worker?  When none of the owners move back home with their parents, they won’t miss a car note or mortgage payment or have to wonder where their next meal is coming from.  The owners will win this game and they will be losers in the long run!

I remember being in the NBA office in New York City in 1981 attending a meeting with Nike Representative John Phillips.  He was there questioning why the NBA was trying to stop a Nike sponsored charity benefit game on the Caribbean Island of St. Thomas.  It was a game that Nike had sponsored the year before.

St. Thomas was the home of NBA player Michael Thompson one of the participating players along with Magic Johnson.

In that meeting was former NBA player Ron Thorn (NBA Player Personnel), Gary Bettman (NBA attorney) and Horace Balmer (NBA Security).

In a moment of frustration Mr. Bettman shouted at John Phillips “You can’t do that we own the players!”  Bettman has since been rewarded with a league of his own—the National Hockey League (NHL).  

Magic Johnson and the participating players all tucked in their tails and ran for parts unknown.   This was 27 years after Brown vs. Board of Education and 13 years after the assassination of Rev. Martin Luther King.

The number one theme song in Black America was “We Shall Over Come,” and still they ran for parts unknown!

It came as no surprise to me that it was Magic who stepped to the front of the NBA bus three decades later.  When Atty. Kessler tried to use the Race Card, Magic said, ‘David Stern is my man and he has always had the NBA player’s best interest at heart.’  Again, we must consider the source! 

It is said on any given Sunday the most segregated institution in America is a Church!

A newspaper media press room at deadline, NBA, NFL, NHL, and Major League Baseball franchises, are all running a close second.  On any given Sunday check out the owners’ boxes of these teams and see how many minorities you can count!  I am not talking about the “Window Dressers” who are there in the background to add a little color.

The absence in 2011 of black newspaper sports editors in major media outlets around the country is appalling.  Last count there were only 5 out of close to 100 newspapers.

Bill Rhoden’s “Million Dollar Slaves” was like the kettle calling the pot black!

During my sports media career I have been in the company of David Stern on several occasions.  I think he is a class act and he can be very charming.  The problem is that he does not know when he is being a racist because he has never had to walk in a black man’s shoes!

During homecoming one year at Winston-Salem State I encountered NBA legend and Winston-Salem great Earl Monroe in a local barber shop.  He was with several of his homies from Philly, Smiley and Smitty.

They sounded like a church choir when I walked in, “Man your ears must be burning they have been talking about you up in the NBA office.”

We all broke out in a laugh, but no one said what was the topic of conversation and I never followed up.  I thought to myself, ‘at least they were talking about me!’

Mr. Stern has received the “Good Housekeeper Seal of Approval” from Magic, Bob Lanier, Earl Lloyd and my friend Sonny Hill.  Some of the “Buck Dancing” I have seen some of these guys do in his presence embarrass me!  They dance so well they could be finalist on “Dancing with the Stars.”

I would change the title of the show to “Buck Dancing with the NBA Commissioner.”

There are no blacks in his circle of friends who have the balls to take him aside and say, ‘Dave that was a racist statement or racist act!’

Magic was heard saying, “The NBA is the most integrated and progressive sports franchise in the history of pro sports.  Look at all the brothers with high profile positions in the league for that we have to thank Commissioner Stern!”

“Sometimes it is best to be thought a fool than to open your mouth and remove all doubt” meet Magic Johnson—-another brother who does not know his own (NBA) history!

The two white men who are responsible for the progression of blacks in the NBA were Boston Celtic owner Walter Brown and Coach Red Auerbach.  Come on man!

All that I am saying is ‘Don’t blame the messenger.’

Remember, “Every black face you see is not your brother and every white face you see is not your enemy.”   White folks don’t have a patent on racism in America.  Some of the biggest racist can be found in our own community.

Many times white folks just don’t know any better.  I just can’t figure out, what is our excuse?

I for one don’t think Stern’s negotiation tactics with the players has anything to do with racism—as one of the gangsters said in the movie Godfather “It is nothing personal its just business.”

Harold Bell is the Godfather of Sports Talk radio and television in Washington, DC.  Throughout the mid-sixties, seventies and eighties, Harold embarked upon a relatively new medium–sports talk radio with classic interviews with athletes and sports celebrities.  The show and format became wildly popular. Harold has been an active force fighting for the rights of children for over 40 years with the help of his wife through their charity Kids In Trouble, Inc.   To learn more about Harold Bell visit his official web site H. B. Sports


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