With talk about college athletes seeking to form a union because they feel like they employees of the institutions they attend, Hall of Famer Bill Russell said Wednesday that the NCAA has a "money machine" and to keep it that way, the work force has to be "free" or work for very low wages.
Russell spoke on a panel at a three-day Civil Rights Summit in Austin, Texas being joined by NFL Hall of Fame running back Jim Brown.
He also said he remembers when NBA players had to fight to get better contracts.
Russell, who won 11 championships as a member of the Boston Celtics, said that the players got their way only when they threatened to sit out an All-Star Game and the playoffs. Northwestern athletes will vote on April 25 whether to form a union, something the NCAA wants no part of.
''All great fortunes are amassed with either cheap or slave labor,'' Russell said, via the Associated Press. ''The NCAA is the one group everybody is focusing on. They have this money machine. To keep it this way, the labor force has to be free or very low wages ... All the agreements with the NBA now are based on collective bargaining.''
Russell said also said that gay athletes' current fight for equality and acceptance reminded him of some of the same struggles black athletes faced in the 1960s.