This 2010 photo shows President Barack Obama (left) with a personalized team jersey next to Los Angeles Lakers guard Kobe Bryant. (AP)
President Barack Obama, who in 1979 won a Hawaii state championship playing basketball for his high school, the Punahou School, really misses NBA basketball. He misses it so much that he’s decided to do something about it.
With the NBA lockout threatening to cancel the entire season, last week, the White House announced that several NBA players have committed to playing in the Obama Classic Basketball Game, scheduled for Monday, Dec. 12th in Washington D.C. Some big names have already committed to participate, including Dwight Howard, Kevin Durant, Chris Paul, Carmelo Anthony, Ray Allen and Chris Bosh.
The venue has not been announced, but the game will raise money for the Obama Victory Fund, which is jointly held by the Democratic National Committee and Obama’s re-election campaign. Tickets, which range from $100 to $5,000 for courtside seats, are not on sale yet, but will made available to the general public.
Others expected to play include Baron Davis, Russell Westbrook, Rudy Gay and NBA players union president Derek Fisher.
It seems kind of obvious that Fisher and other members of his union, which decertified last week and filed several lawsuits against the NBA owners, would support the president since he is such a pro-union guy. Just this past April at an Iowa town hall meeting, Obama said, “I’ve said this before publicly, and I’ll say it again – I make no apologies for it: I am a pro-union guy.”
“Our unions helped build our middle class,” Obama tolf his audience. “We take for granted so much stuff – minimum wage laws, 40-hour work week, overtime, child labor laws. Those things wouldn’t have happened if it hadn’t been for unions fighting for those rights. So, even if you’re not a member of a union, you’ve got to be appreciative of what unions have done.”
Now, obviously, the president believes that unions are a great way to help the middle class, and NBA players are part of the one-percent, but a union mentality is a union mentality. Anyone who has ever been part of a union – or has been part of management and had to deal with a union – knows just how powerful a union can be. Unions protect workers in a way that no individual can protect himself on the job, and whether you’re a teacher, a UPS worker or even a professional athlete, that is a protection that one is not so quick to give up.
If you just look at the situation in Wisconsin, where they are having a record number of recall elections after Republican Gov. Scott Walker, along with both houses of the legislature (also controlled by Republicans), passed a provision that ended collective bargaining for public employees, it’s obvious that Americans like their unions.
In the case of the NBA, the players have taken the negotiations a little personally as well.
Aaron Goodwin, a black agent who represents Oklahoma City’s Kevin Durant, told the Washington Post, “For years, owners have treated players as if they are just their property, fining them over how they dress, act, everything. This is the first time the players have the opportunity to say no.”
And it is their union that is allowing them to do so.
For years, players have felt as though a plantation mentality has swept through the NBA. Yes, they make lots of money, but being fined for the way they dress (including wearing baseball hats) or taunting during a game (which isn’t really taunting and is the way most of them grew up playing the game) or for leaving the bench during a game (which can cost them a one-game suspension) hasn’t sat well with them. While these issues could be addressed during these negotiations, they have not been. They have been lost in lieu of the much larger and more important issues like how to split up the income. The players do not want to take a loss on this issue, partially because of how they feel about everything else.
So, it is the union that gives the players a semblance of respect. And they don’t want to give that up.
Now, with their union decertified, the players throw their support to President Obama, who, last month at a fundraiser in Orlando with Magic star Dwight Howard, said that he’s “a little heartbroken that the NBA season is getting delayed.”
You can be sure that Derek Fisher and the rest of the NBA players are a little heartbroken, too.