Thursday, July 08, 2010

How LeBron And Wade Can Create A League Of Their Own

 (LeBron James and Dwyane Wade (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky, File)

How LeBron And Wade Can Create A League Of Their Own

By Roland Laird

9:39 AM on 07/08/201

As the NBA Free Agency sweepstakes enters its final stretch, LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, and a few others are in the position of controlling their own destiny; and because of this, have been rightly shopping their services around. Ostensibly each player wants to either go where they can win "the chip" (i.e. the NBA title), or use their cach√© to have their franchise build a great team around them. Furthermore, each free agent has toyed with the idea of playing together. In fact back in late May, Wade, James and Joe Johnson talked about setting up package deals for various players and basically calling the shots as to who goes where. Though Wade has decided to stay with the Miami Heat along with Chris Bosh, and James is considering joining them, the idea of young black men forming a quasi power cartel in pro sports still appeals to me a lot, the concept of which can still be entertained. 

My idea of power differs from that which today's black athlete holds. And somewhere inside of me, my black nationalist/economic uplift yearnings sense a missed opportunity. Many of these athletes have the buying power of mid-sized corporations. Rather than talk about the best place to win a title, why not make an even stronger statement? Why not have all of the free agents pool their resources and buy a franchise for them to play on together? The idea of a team owned and operated by black athletes is a pipe dream of mine, but is it any more of a pipe dream than a black man becoming president of the United States?

Even more to the point, just as Barack Obama's ascension is the logical extension of the historical struggles of black people in the political arena, a team owned and operated by black athletes seems to me to be the logical extension of the struggles of black people in the athletic arena. Starting with Negro League baseball and the Harlem Rens basketball team, African-Americans have owned teams. The irony being that as sports became more integrated, black ownership in sports has become a fraction of what it was during the segregationist period. 


I will not, however, participate in a revisionist history that longs for the good ole days of segregation. I understand that what was lost in ownership was gained in revenue and salaries for black athletes. As I said earlier today's players such as Wade and James are like corporations unto themselves, and it is apparent that they understand this to a certain degree. What they don't seem to concern themselves with is their historic legacy as black athletes. 

This is not their fault. If we just look at how the system for athletes is set up there's no structure in place to plug black athletes into their historic legacy, so most of them are just flying blind looking for ways to maximize their net worth while striving to become all-time greats in their professions. I'm not mad at them for this and far be it from me to tell other people what to do with their lives. It's just that I see how close these men are to seizing real power, but nobody anywhere is giving them that significant push to an even more empowered mindset.

Do Wade and James even feel a connection to Curt Flood? Flood, a former Major League Baseball player for the St. Louis Cardinals, amongst other teams, fought for the right to not be treated like property and his career was ruined by this fight. However it is because of him that free agency was created and athletes in all sports make more money than Flood himself could have ever imagined. Granted there isn't a direct connection between Flood's case and my proposing that Wade and James buy an NBA franchise today. Plus even if Wade and James are intimately aware of Flood's story, how does that knowledge support the purchase of an NBA franchise? Simple. Flood saw that there was an imbalance in the way that owners viewed athletes, while Wade and James see that they have bargaining power. They still see themselves as employees. Now there's nothing wrong with being an employee; but in this case I think Wade and James are punching below their weight. Of course some will say that if Wade and James were to buy an NBA team and attract some of the other big name free agents, they would probably have to sit out this season and lose some serious loot. My answer to this is there is precedent there as well.

In the 1980-81 season, Gus Williams sat out an entire NBA season with the Seattle Supersonics because he didn't think he was being paid what he was worth. I'm sure there was a degree of financial strain for Williams, but he ultimately got his money. If Wade and James even threatened to sit out the NBA season, given their profile and the fact that they represent forty percent of the top five players in the NBA, the league would not want to risk losing the revenue streams that follow both men and I believe they would bend over backwards to figure out a way to get them a team. 

More important: even if the league didn't bend over backwards, Wade and James would capture the imagination of black communities nationwide. For my money, doing something that inspires people is the best kind of "chip" anybody can win.

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