Miami Heat Superstar Lebron James briefly contemplated a run for president of the National Basketball Players Association (NBPA). He ultimately decided not to run but the thought of James becoming more involved in league business is still an exciting prospect. Can you imagine? The face of the NBA serving as the lead voice on player issues would be a sea change for league and its negotiations with the players who make the game worth watching.
James has expressed concern that the NBA players union is "going backwards" and isn't "in a good place." Whether you believe that's true or not, the bigger point is that James does not turn a blind eye to perceived losses by players. It's fitting that he would consider running for a leadership position. But just because James has ruled that out, doesn’t mean he should give up activism altogether. One of the best things he can do for himself and his colleagues is offer himself up as willing support for the next union president.
I think back to the NFL lockout and one of the most impressive displays of support came in the form of high profile quarterbacks Tom Brady, Drew Brees and Peyton Manning lending their names to the NFL Players Association's lawsuit against the league. The union filed an antitrust suit in Federal court to try and prevent a lockout. While 15 plaintiffs in total were named, the participation of the top QBs in the league was a strong statement. This is an extreme example, but as unions carry out day-to-day business there are many opportunities for the most respected players to promote unity amongst their colleagues and be informed spokespersons on player issues.
Although it would be intriguing to have the league's face represent the players, there's a reason that recent union presidents have been guys were lesser known and didn't hold the office during the prime of their careers. Three-point sharpshooter, journeyman and league gadfly Derrick Fisher last served in the role. Before Fisher, Michael Curry and Antonio Davis took their turns. It's been a while since heralded players Patrick Ewing and Isiah Thomas juggled the position while remaining stars on the court. That's understandable given how things have changed over the past couple decades.
In today's exponentially more voluminous media environment, having a star like James serve as NBAPA president would present several challenges. It would heighten attention to every aspect of any negotiation, attract an undue level of scrutiny to union decisions, and could ultimately be damaging to James' brand if he's perceived as an ineffective leader or someone who layed down for the league bosses. Plus, whoever becomes union president next has a lot of cleaning up to do and I can't imagine James has that kind of time right now.
The last Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) was signed after a short lockout and a flurry of controversy about how much revenue the players gave back to the league. Fisher publicly clashed with the union's executive director Billy Hunter which resulted in Hunter suing Fisher accusing him of "secret negotiations" with league owners. Hunter himself was investigated and subsequently fired for improper deals and hiring. The union badly needs a seasoned veteran who can dedicate some real time to cleaning things up.
Taking all of this into account, I get why James will forego a run. But that doesn't mean he can't play a key role. In fact, he already has. James was very active during CBA negotiations and was one of the first to speak up after he and about 40 other players had Hunter relieved of his duties. One of the biggest challenges unions face is getting players of all income and talent levels to speak from one voice. James is respected enough to both inspire unity and be an effective champion for his peers without seeking an official title. His teammates and colleagues need him to continue to step up to the plate.
Jessica Danielle is a professional speechwriter and blogger who covers sports with wit and ardor at Playerperspective.com.