In a league in which you have to dominate in the paint, someone
should spare a gallon for Simon Gourdine. As the new executive
director of the National Basketball Players Association (NBPA),
Gourdine (above) works in a Broadway office that last saw a fresh
coat when the New York Knicks played in the old Madison Square
Garden. The white walls are bare. No photographs of Gourdine with
players. No gimcracks from the 1970s, when he was the NBA's deputy
commissioner. Nothing. ``I like my office this way,'' says
Gourdine, 54. ``It's a reminder that I should take my job, but
never myself, seriously.''
It is the office of an ascetic -- or of someone who wants to be
able to pack in a hurry. Gourdine, a Manhattan native and a
graduate of Fordham Law School, has a glowing but varied
employment history. In 1981, when his road to becoming NBA
commissioner seemed blocked, Gourdine left the league to become
commissioner of the New York City Department of Consumer Affairs
and, later, director of labor relations for the Metropolitan
Transportation Authority. In 1990 he returned to basketball as the
NBPA's general counsel. Gourdine became the top man in the union
when Charles Grantham abruptly resigned, on April 14.
The 1994-95 NBA schedule has been played under the terms of the
collective bargaining agreement that expired last July and under a
no-strike, no-lockout arrangement reached by the players and
owners days before the season began. A lack of significant
progress in negotiations -- with the gaps between the parties,
particularly on revenue issues, still substantial -- has caused
widespread concern that a strike is possible after this season.
Gourdine, who negotiated labor agreements for the NBA owners in
1976 and 1979, was greeted warmly by management in his new role.
``I'm sure [Commissioner] David Stern is happy about this,'' Trail
Blazer president Bob Whitsitt said. ``Simon is a good guy who
cares about what happens in the NBA. This isn't a Donald Fehr
But will Gourdine's appointment mean a softer line from the
players? The word moderate makes Gourdine bristle. ``I can be
accommodating, but if that means I'm easy or overly flexible, I
reject that,'' he says. ``I grew up in the middle of the civil
rights struggle. A moderate was someone who maybe was too
accommodating, who wasn't pushing hard enough.''
Malcolm X was Gourdine's hero. Still is. When he was a junior at
City College, Gourdine interviewed Malcolm at a Harlem restaurant
for a term paper. Recalls Gourdine: ``At the end of the interview
we went out into the street, and he called out, `Brother
Gourdine.' He had a flair for the theatrical. `Before you go back
to the college on the hill and write about the Black Muslims, I
ask one thing of you: Please be fair.' ''
Gourdine will try to be fair -- and tough -- as he negotiates. He
will lean on the NBPA executive committee, especially president
Buck Williams of the Blazers. Given Gourdine's office, he might
need Sherwin Williams more than Buck.