LeBron James, Dwayne Wade colluding to be N.Y. Knicks? Times have certainly changed in the NBA
MONDAY, 31 MAY 2010 12:54
BY EVAN WEINER
Let's get this straight. People are "concerned" that National Basketball Association free agents to be Dwayne Wade, Lebron James, Joe Johnson and Chris Bosh may meet to discuss whatever free agents-to-be need to discuss, such as playing together. Wade's agent now says there will not be a "summit" with the NBA's top available free agent talent but there probably will be some talks here and there. The New Jersey Nets, New York Knicks and Los Angeles Clippers can offer two "max" contracts and there is talk the Dolan-family owned Knicks (who probably don't pay a "max" salary of about $14 million a year in New York City property taxes on Madison Square Garden real estate) might go after Lebron and Wade. There is "concern" that players can collude but owners cannot and that the players will orchestrate where they will play which means the free agents could make or break franchises.
Nowhere in this "concern" is it mentioned that the NBA's Collective Bargaining Agreement with the players is up after the 2010-11 season and that the NBA wants huge financial rollbacks from the players which could scuttle the plans of any owner including Dolan or the Nets new moneyman Mikhail Prokhorov or even the Clippers Donald Sterling from going after two max players.
The NBA is still an owners toy because of a salary cap. Two great players might be on the same team, but good complimentary players may be passed over because of salary cap restrictions and that is a complication in building a team.
At one time, Dwayne Wade, LeBron James, Joe Johnson and Chris Bosh-like players would not have even been considered for employment in the NBA.
Prior to 1950, they all would have ended up with the Harlem Globetrotters. The NBA closed the doors to Negro players back then just like it closes the doors today to 18-year-olds of all stripes out of high school.
The NBA remains an exclusive and exclusionary club to certain people.
The Harlem Globetrotters were important to the NBA. The team and brand were bigger than the National Basketball League, the Basketball Association of America or the new National Basketball Association that was established in August 1949. In what turned out to be the dying days of the NBL, the match up of the Globetrotters and the Mikan led Minneapolis Lakers brought attention to the struggling Midwest-based league in 1948.
The Globetrotters were basketball troubadours who literally played anywhere as long as someone set up a basketball court and was willing to give Abe Saperstein some cash. The Globetrotters also provided the first half of a night's worth of entertainment at NBA games as a featured attraction in a double header.
"The Globetrotters would play the preliminary and the NBA would play the main attraction," said Marquis Haynes. "But it got to the point we people after our game, the Harlem Globetrotters game would start leaving before the halftime of the NBA game and they switched it around for them, the NBA teams to play the first game and the Harlem Globetrotters the second which made a lot of sense."
The Globetrotters popularity might have had something to do with blacks being accepted into pro basketball with no fanfare. In 1942/43, the Toledo Jim White Chevrolets and the Chicago Studebakers of the National Basketball League had black players in their lineups. Both teams folded, but the NBL was integrated four and a half years before Jackie Robinson broke Major League Baseball's color barrier.
Mikan and the Lakers would face the Globbies before a sellout crowd at Chicago Stadium on February 20, 1948 in a game that was conceived by a Chicago sports editor, Arch Ward. (Ward came up with the idea for the American and National League All-Star Game in baseball and pushed for the formation of a new football league, the All America Football Conference in 1946 and the College All Star Game against the NFL in Chicago).
Mikan's Lakers seemed to be really good and the Globetrotters team was thought to be the best in the world. Ermer Robinson, Ducky Moore, Sam Wheeler, Goose Tatum, Haynes, Babe Pressley, Ted Strong, Vertes Ziegler, and Wilbert King defeated Mikan, Jim Pollard and the Lakers, 61-59, before a crowd of 17,823 at Chicago Stadium. Robinson won the game on a last second, two-handed 20-foot set shot.
"I was told by several NBA owners at the time that that was the beginning of them deciding to draft or recruit players from the Harlem Globetrotters and the black colleges," said Haynes in an interview in the mid-1990s.
Minneapolis, along with three other teams, joined the BAA in the 1948 off season. Wade, LeBron, Johnson and Bosh would not have been able to follow the Lakers, Rochester Royals, Fort Wayne Pistons or Indianapolis into the newer league. Despite enormous talent, Negroes were "unofficially" barred from the BAA. There seems however to be an exception in the case of the New York Knicks player, the Japanese-American Wataru Misaka, who played with New York in 1947-48 and is now considered the first non-white in the BAA.
Haynes never played in the NBA but he and his Globetrotter teammates helped open the door. It took a while for the NBA to consider top notch players. It was not until 1950 that the league would give a Negro player a try out.
NBA integration would not happen until October 31, 1950 when the Washington Capitols' roster included Earl Lloyd. Years later Lloyd would downplay the significance of his breaking of the color barrier.
Lloyd had a head start on the Knicks Sweetwater Clifton, whose contract was purchased from Saperstein's Harlem Globetrotters, and the Boston Celtics Chuck Cooper, who was taken out of college.
Black college coach John McLendon, who was at North Carolina College, was instrumental in getting Lloyd signed.
"The Washington Capitols were the first team to have historically black schools products on the team. They preceded Boston by one week." said John Mc Lendon (who was the first African-American coach of a pro team as he was hired by the American Basketball League's George Steinbrenner-owned Cleveland Pipers in 1961 and fired by Steinbrenner even though Cleveland won the Eastern Division because McLendon refused to tell a player Steinbrenner had traded him to that evening's opponent — McLendon then got as far away from Steinbrenner as possible and went to Malaysia as a basketball instructor). "There were two guys ahead of Cooper, Harold Hunter and Earl Lloyd.
"I took them to a tryout in Washington, D.C. They had 20 something guys in there and they put them in threes and no combination could be the three guys. The owner, (Mike) Uline, and the general manager called me upstairs, and said, ‘hey coach get those guys dressed and bring them up here.' I have a copy of the contract they signed."
Lloyd made the Capitols, Hunter didn't. McLendon said the first two black athletes who actually signed NBA contracts were Hunter (who played for McLendon at North Carolina College) and Lloyd with Washington and the Celtics signed Cooper after drafting him in the second round of the 1950 Draft a week later.
"I took them, I was there," said McLendon. "I asked the Basketball Hall of Fame just to note five pioneers in the game. They had it up for six months and then took it down because it caused too much controversy, people were arguing about who is the first one, who was the first under contract, the first one on the floor, the first one drafted. The first two in the NBA under a tryout were Harold Hunter and Earl Lloyd.
Lloyd and the rest of the players in the NBA were not playing for the money.
"We wasn't making more money with the Globetrotters." said Haynes. "In fact in those years, league teams weren't making much money either. They (NBA players of the 1940s and 1950s) were like we were, we had to keep in touch with different businesses in our hometown or in the area of our hometowns while the season was still going on. Hopefully, in keeping in touch with them, we were able to gain employment during the summer to be able to afford ourselves until the next season started. So the NBA players were in the same position as we were in keeping up to the money part."
The Globetrotters would eventually lose games to the Lakers but still got their share of talented players after their monopoly on black players was broken by the Lloyd signing. The Globbies did get quite a few players including Wilt Chamberlain who left Kansas to play with Saperstein's team in 1958-59 for a $50,000 salary, which was out of the NBA's range. Chamberlain was ineligible to play in 1958-59 in the NBA because he had not put in four years at college. Had Chamberlain been 18 years old in 2010, he would be ineligible for the NBA because he was not one year out of high school.
If there should be any player collusion, talented high school graduates should be filing lawsuits against the NBA for discrimination for not allowing them to apply for a job because of age. An 18-year-old can fight a war yet not play on an NBA team because Commissioner David Stern and his owners have decided that either colleges or overseas leagues should develop a player who can command millions sitting on the bench with an entry level contract. The National Basketball Players Association and NBA owners have agreed to banning 18-year-olds in the NBA and the harmed players can do nothing about it under US labor laws.
Wade and LeBron will get max contracts and the other guys, Bosh and Johnson won't be checking in with people in their hometowns for summer employment like Haynes and other NBA players once did.
Even if they collude.
Evan Weiner is an author, radio-TV commentator and lecturer on "The Politics of Sports Business" and is available for speaking engagements at firstname.lastname@example.org