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Berry Tramel: Even at 94, Marvin Miller would give NBA players an advantage

by Berry Tramel Published: June 26, 2011

The NBA ticks toward a lockout. Friday is the deadline. The day pro basketball's business halts.

It's a little disconcerting for us here in Oklahoma. Just when this NBA stuff is really getting good, there's talk of a shortened season. Or no season at all.

I know how to insure an NBA season. I know how the players can scare the owners into settlement. I know how to make the owners want no part of hardball.

The players union should hire Marvin Miller.

Yes, he's still alive and kicking, 94 years old, 29 years retired from leading the baseball union. Still alive and kicking and undefeated in sports labor negotiating.

I have no idea who has tried to hire Miller over the years. But the NBA players should give it another go. Appeal to Miller to sign up for what he obviously already sees as an attack on player freedom.

Miller stressed unity in his 16 years leading the baseball union. When he took over the association in 1966, baseball players had a $6,000 minimum salary and an average salary of less than $20,000. By 1982, the minimum was $33,500; the average was $241,000.

Miller told Sports Illustrated earlier this year that he would tell his union members: “Even if I were the smartest man in the world (which I'm not) and even if I were the best negotiator in the world (which I'm not), we wouldn't have these gains unless there was complete unity and solidarity ... that's the power that moves the machine, not who you have as executive director.”

It's a lesson we've seen played out in sports labor. NFL players have displayed the least solidarity, illustrated by embarrassing picket-line crossings in 1987, and now clearly have the worst labor contract. Baseball players have displayed the most solidarity and clearly have the best deal. The NBA is in the middle.

Miller still has the wisdom and fire to lead athletes at the negotiating table. Maybe not the energy, but that can be found elsewhere. Hire Miller, let the owners know you're taking your cues from him, and NBA ownership would sober up quickly.

NBA commissioner David Stern casts an imposing shadow on his sport. But Stern would not overshadow Miller.

Have you heard all the talk about the relationships between NBA union chief Billy Hunter and Stern, and NFL union chief DeMaurice Smith and commissioner Roger Goodell? The idea that these guys have to have some kind of workable relationship?

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by Berry Tramel
Berry Tramel, a lifelong Oklahoman, sports fan and newspaper reader, joined The Oklahoman in 1991 and has served as beat writer, assistant sports editor, sports editor and columnist. Tramel grew up reading four daily newspapers — The Oklahoman,...
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