NBA insight from its 1st Million Dollar Man

While it may be hard for some to imagine, there was a time when all NBA Players did not earn a million dollars a year!  In fact, Otis Birdsong, who currently serves on the NBRPA Board, was the 1st NBA player to secure a multi-year contract, compensating him one million dollars annually and there’s no surprise that he now marvels over all the money disputes currently taking place in professional sports.

In this exclusive interview with the NBA Legend, conducted by my daughter and future sports reporter, Larionne Rousell, Birdsong speaks plain and in “real talk” on his views and helps to give insight on the legitimacy of the NBA’s current money woes. He also speaks candidly on his thoughts on what might be, or should be, the mindset of current NBA players and what Rookies may be facing!

When asked how he thinks the NBA has changed from his days as the 2nd pick of the 1977 draft, culminating with the Celtics and Larry Bird after some of the most successful years for the New Jersey Nets, Birdsong acknowledges that the game has become less physical.  “The league is making the game more “wide open” thereby increasing point totals and providing more excitement for fans. Some of our current players lack the fundamental skills of the game. These players are unable to make the mid-range shots and try to shoot “the three” or dunk.  Careful analysis reveals the difficulty they have in making moves when going to the left if they are right-handed (and vice-versa) because they lack these fundamentals”, said Birdsong.  As the players, who wouldn’t even consider playing for the contract amounts of Birdsong, or other past players, now face “unemployment” during the NBA Lockout, Birdsong points out, as many sports analysts did during the NFL Lockout, that “…a lot of the players are struggling as they have to go into their savings.  Even players with endorsements are not making money because those brands are not allowed to use their faces with the Lockout going on.  They [the players] need to be very careful on how they are spending their money”.  Sounds like words of wisdom, if I must say so myself!

Sure, it may not tug any heartstrings with those of us “regular folk” who know all too well the pains of hard economic times, and rightfully so, but the reality is a lot of the players support charities, family and friends, and live very extravagant, expensive lifestyles and I suspect there have been many changes made in their spending habits.  It’s been rumored that some players are even considering risking their contracts to play overseas during the Lockout, but Birdsong doesn’t seem to take it seriously, while he also notes “I don’t think it’s smart and I don’t think it’s going to happen. They really don’t want to play overseas to hold up the owners to get a deal.  All contract negotiations include a little bluffing. Some of the more marquee names like Dirk, Kobe, and LeBron probably won’t go overseas”. 

So what’s the hold up?  Why is the new Labor Agreement so hard to get worked out?  Birdsong sums it up like this:

“Two reasons: Owners are receiving 42% and players are getting 57% of gross receipts. They [the owners] incur expenses of meals, transportation during the season, physical therapy treatments, etc and the owners are done with that.  Also, the owners are proposing contractual agreements for the players of 5 years with 2 of those 5 as option years – no guaranteed contract. This is a second point requiring further negotiation.  I believe the players would want all of their money guaranteed”.

“Guaranteed money”?  I think most of us would love to get “guaranteed money” on our jobs, especially those who work blue-collar jobs and risk career ending injuries daily.  The way it works for the majority of us is, if you get injured, you file workman’s compensation claims and tell the bill collectors to wait, if you answer the phone!

Thinking about the “new kids on the block”, how about the NBA Rookies and the fact that they have walked into the middle of a family dispute?  Can we say awkward?  Larionne asked Birdsong about them and if he thinks this Rookie Class will have a hard time adjusting as a result of the lockout. Of course he said yes, and he further pointed out “because in the past, these players that were drafted would have the option to play in the summer league and go against other Rookies as well as Veteran Players [but not now during the Lockout]. They’re also missing out on the orientation program.”   Sounds like the Rookies are missing out on some needed fundamentals and “training opportunities”.  Hopefully they can “catch up” whenever the NBA gets back to business.

Of course no NBA discussion would be complete without predictions, and who better to ask than Otis Birdsong who, in 2000, was inducted in the University Of Houston’s Hall of Honor, the State of Florida Hall of Fame, and Polk County Florida Hall of Fame.  Wrapping up her interview, Larionne gave Birdsong the opportunity to share his thoughts on what he expects to see the next NBA Season from her favorite team, the Miami Heat.  “So, do the Heat finally win it all this year”, she asked, and I think she likes his answer! “Yes…I think they [the Heat] will win it because Pat Riley will put more pieces together; Bosh, Wade and LeBron will be more hungry and will be more familiar with each other’s strengths and weaknesses”.

Since I’m an NFL girl, I have no input on the Heat’s victories or defeats, but I will say that the Heat did pretty good their first year together!  Let’s hope they do get the chance to silence the haters!

Note: To find out more about Otis Birdsong and his NBA career as well as The National Basketball Retired Players Association (NBRPA) visit: http://www.legendsofbasketball.com/channel/111/

-Toni L. Rousell, Publicist & PR Professional

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