When Bill Russell speaks, as long as you aren’t too busy being blinded by his eleven rings, you listen. And when he says hard-liners are threatening to extend the NBA lockout and further damage the game, he’s right. (CBS Sports)
“As a very interested bystander, I just hope they get a deal,” Russell told CBSSports.com in a phone interview. “And it will not come from the hard-liners on either side. I think they all know that. I have this theory that hard-liners are like true believers. And true believers think that any compromise is a retreat. And moving forward, that doesn’t cut it.”
Russell also shared an old anecdote regarding David Stern’s feelings toward the NBA players union. These days, David Stern is called a plantation owner (by irrational people). He is called a bully (by rational people). He is the head of the NBA owners, and as such, Stern is leading a brigade to take the players’ lunch money, if not their dignity. But Russell remembered a time when Stern called the players his business partners.
Russell’s words carry weight – and not just because he is the most decorated champion in NBA history. The former Celtics’ star was among a group of 20 All-Stars who threatened to boycott the 1964 All-Star Game in Boston unless the NBA recognized the newly formed players’ union.
“Basically I was one of those guys that helped get the players’ association started,” Russell said. “And they’ve done wonderful things. I knew David Stern before he was commissioner, when he was associate attorney for the NBA. And if I remember correctly, he said, ‘I do not consider the players’ association my adversaries. They’re my business partners.’
“That’s where, a lot of the things that David has done — and I’ve known him up close — have been beneficial for both sides,” Russell said.
Russell understands the stances of both sides, but like the rest of us, just wants a resolution.
“The players want their fair share of the business and the small-market owners don’t want to keep losing money,” Russell said.
Russell said he hasn’t kept up with the details of the negotiation, but cautioned both sides that there’s “more to the agreement than just money.”
“I told Billy Hunter a few years ago: Bargain as hard as you can and make a deal,’” Russell said. “I really like and respect David Stern, and I really like and respect Billy Hunter and Derek Fisher. My whole life I’ve had a love affair with the NBA, and we’ve had some tough negotiations over the years. But I don’t think we ever vilified the other side. We just had tough negotiations.”
End this lockout, NBA. The best winner in the history of professional sports implores you to.