NBA: What We Can All Learn From the World’s Highest-Paid Union Workers

While the salaries of a team’s highest-paid players are discussed ad nauseam between fans, media members and players themselves, many may not the ins and outs of how a salary works. Players’ unions across all sports are often brought up when it comes to collective bargaining agreements and grievances on behalf of players, but people don’t know the extent of how they work. 

In the NBA, the National Basketball Players Association has given players power in a way that few unions, sports or not, have ever been able to accomplish, and as a result, it has become the highest-paid union in the world. 

The NBP union

According to the NBPA’s website, the NBPA was established in 1954 with legendary Boston Celtic Bob Cousy at the forefront of the unionization. He wrote a letter to a representative of every team to gauge their interests and what they would want in a players’ union. The other players got on board, and the NBPA was born. Cousy, as the one who spearheaded the union, became the first President of the union. 

The new NBA union demanded payment of back salaries for the defunct Baltimore Bullets club, the abolition of a $15 “whispering foul” that referees placed on players throughout the game in secret, and a 20-game limit on exhibition games, appearance payments for public events, and moving expenses for players who are traded.

The league initially refused to recognize the union, but followers of basketball will know that this did not last. In 1957, the league and the players agreed on the requests. 

From pension for retired players to free agency, all of this went through the NBPA. The players have used a variety of tactics to let their voices be heard, from the 1964 season, when the players reportedly refused to take the court if they weren’t heard on a variety of issues, to the now common threat of lockout seasons if terms aren’t met. 

65 years later after starting, now the players’ union has helped the NBA’s players get their nine-figure contracts and made sure that players are getting their proper cut of the revenue. 

The NBA has the highest-paid union in the world

The NBPA has never been afraid to stretch its power. They have fought for fair pay, fighting racism, and of course, fair pay. In a world where pay across racial lines is wildly inconsistent, the NBA has provided its largely-black member base with an avenue for fair pay and treatment of employees in a world where giants like Wal-Mart and Amazon refuse to allow unions to arrive. 

Breaking from wages across the country at large companies such as these, the NBA players continue to get pay raises and more rights in the league. The average NBA salary is $7M, and while some of the players make less than a million dollars, a vast majority of NBA players who find a standard place in the league do. The highest-paid players in the NBA can make upwards of $40M a year.

While this is a large disparity, the union has ensured that all 450 members can live comfortably and stretch their rights as employees. 

Snowball effect? 

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Media Day 2019 ✅

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Players don’t often speak out about the NBA salaries, but several NBA players have spoken out about salaries in a different way. The WNBA, which likes to pride itself as the equivalent of the NBA for women, still pays its players peanuts when compared to NBA players.

Instead of staying silent, several NBA players have taken a stand and talked about how the WNBA players should get a similar CBA to them (relative to the WNBA’s revenue, of course). 

From LeBron James to Isaiah Thomas, several NBA players have spoken about how WNBA players deserve similar rights to NBA players. Kevin Garnett has used his platform on TNT to speak about it. Phoenix Suns big man DeAndre Ayton did not mince words when talking about it.

“We should support it more and give the women a lot of credit because they’re doing the same thing us men do,” Ayton said. “They work on their game every day, as much as we do. They compete at the top level. I just think they deserve more attention and they should be paid more as well.”

The NBA may continue to grow, but if they can start working with the WNBA and other unions, other players and employees across industries could begin to find themselves with more rights as workers and better pay in the process.