ESPN is reporting NBA general managers are working toward finalizing the formation of a professional association that would support team executives with access to legal defense funds, legal counsel referrals, and public relations professionals.
This comes in the wake of allegations of gross workplace misconduct made against Portland Trail Blazers president of basketball operations Neil Olshey. The Blazers are currently investigating.
According to the report, the formation of the union was already in the works prior to the Olshey news. But the subsequent investigation further convinced front office executives of the need for a union.
ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski tweeted that the Blazers probe has “stoked fears” among executives.
Executives told ESPN that Portland’s internal probe has stoked fears that organizations can make decisions to fire GM's for any number of traditional reasons and search simultaneously for ways to pursue “cause” violations in contracts in attempt to avoid paying out money owed.
— Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) November 18, 2021
The league’s GMs have worked several months and formed a steering committee to create a set of governing principles for the association. They’ve opened an LLC and informed the league office of their intentions to form a group similar to the National Basketball Coaches Association.
The report makes a connection between the league’s declining revenue and poor attendance as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, and franchise ownership groups wanting to find ways to save money and get out of contracts.
There is certainly a case to be made there.
It is true that the league and franchises saw a decrease in revenue due to the pandemic, and attendance and ratings are down. The NBA has a new television rights deal it is trying to secure and they need it to be as lucrative as possible. That influx of cash would be a welcome infusion from commissioner Adam Silver and the 30 team governors.
So does it make sense for NBA team execs to protect themselves from billionaire owners whose teams are hemorrhaging money? Of course.
But something about the formation of this union doesn’t sit right.
Within the front office of an NBA team, the GMs don’t seem like the people who really need a union. The type of behavior that was alleged to have been conducted by Olshey isn’t anything unheard of.
We have countless stories across sports about toxic front office work cultures. Just look at the NBA in the last couple years. See the Dallas Mavericks and Phoenix Suns.
It is probably safe to assume that this behavior is widespread. Generally speaking, the impact of whistleblowing or doing something about toxic workplace cultures it unfairly falls on the lower level employees within the organization.
Look at the ESPN report on Suns’ owner Robert Sarver. More than 70 people were interviewed and provided their accounts into alleged misdeeds by Sarver. But most of the sources were anonymous. Why do you suppose that is?
It is more than likely that a majority of these individuals were at lower levels than team president or GM. These employees don’t make any real money and haven’t yet developed a professional safety net.
Working for an NBA team is a dream job for every person that has a role. But there are only 30 teams. These jobs are a precious commodity. Going on the record would for all intents and purposes guarantee you never work for a team in the NBA again.
Who at the lower levels could risk that?
So yes, it’s nice that the team executives have a way to protect themselves and their multimillion-dollar contracts. But they’ve also built a network so large that they can transition into a number of other career avenues. Union or not, they’d all likely be fine.
Too bad we can’t say the same for the lower level employees of a front office.