LeBron. Carmelo. Pau. These are some of the names of this year’s current crop of free agents who have decided to test the markets and use their marketability as legit stars to leverage their futures with a new team, or the team that they’re currently with. However, while we as fans debate and ponder on what team that our favorite free agents will sign with, this entire process wouldn’t be possible if it weren’t for NBA hall-of-famer Oscar “The Big O” Robertson.
Robertson, a player whom LeBron James is often compared to for his ability to be both a game changing playmaker and a dominant, yet efficient scorer, filed a lawsuit against the NBA in 1970 that expressed the right for a player to not be bound to any team for the remainder of their career. Although Robertson retired as a player in 1974, he remained the president of the NBA Players Association when the settlement was reached that allowed players to become free agents.
Although we take such a thing for granted today, Robertson’s decision to take a bold stand in the face of the NBA was a groundbreaking one, and numerous players have benefited from the 1976 settlement. Just imagine, if it weren’t for Robertson, we wouldn’t have seen Shaq leave the Orlando Magic to sign with the Lakers as a free agent in the summer of ’96. We wouldn’t have been able to sit back and watch then up-and-coming young star Tracy McGrady leave the Toronto Raptors to sign with the Magic in the summer of 2000. We certainly wouldn’t have witnessed “The Decision” (no explanation needed there) in 2010.
No matter what team that high profile free agents such as Carmelo Anthony, Pau Gasol, and the Big Three in Miami decide to sign with, just remember there was a time when it wouldn’t have been possible for them to have the OPTION to leave. If another player hasn’t given you their respect by paying tribute to your brave efforts to buck the system as it was established back in the ’70s, then I, on behalf of the fans and other non-NBA players want to say thanks. You’re a legend in more ways than one.