At the end of each season in the modern National Basketball Association era, free agency fever sweeps through the teams and fans alike. Big stars either remain with their squad for big paydays and contract extensions, or end up taking their talents to other teams. Those players are able to expand their career options thanks to the contributions of Oscar “The Big O” Robertson.
Robertson, a NBA Hall Of Fame inductee and one of the league’s most legendary players, helped to usher in a new era regarding player contracts. Between 1965 and 1974, Robertson served as the National Basketball Players’ Association president. Along with heading the players’ union, Robertson was still a star player for the Cincinnati Royals and eventually the Milwaukee Bucks.
In 1970, the “Robertson v. National Basketball Association” suit was filed in the U.S. District Court of the Southern District in New York. It was a class-action, anti-trust lawsuit formed to block an impending merger of the NBA and the emerging American Basketball Association. Other points of the suit challenged clauses within player contracts that bound them to a team for life once drafted out of college.
There was also a challenge to the restrictive free agent rules of the time where players literally were at the mercy of owners if they were to be allowed to play for other squads outside of being traded.
The lawsuit was successful in blocking the merger at the time but that changed in 1976 when the NBA and ABA finally did combine. However, the lawsuit led to a class action settlement with the league and its players that lifted the restrictive clauses and binding terms of draftees while moving the league one step closer into unrestricted free agency.
Robertson was also inspired to file the suit because he argued that if players were paid on the level of entertainers, it would pique the interest of more fans. Robertson was proven correct as the league is now an attraction of global interest. Today, the lawsuit’s successful outcome is often referred to as the “Oscar Robertson Rule.”
Robertson was an 12-time NBA All-Star, 11-time All-NBA Team member, world champion and was the 1961 Rookie Of The Year. Robertson remains the only player to average a triple double in stats for an entire NBA season. He was inducted into the NBA Hall Of Fame in 1980.
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