Oscar Robertson to receive inaugural Curt Flood Game-Changer Award

June 27, 2014

Hall of Famer Oscar Robertson, who along with former NBA stars Dave Bing, Dave Cowens, Dave DeBusschere and Archie Clark founded the NBRPA, has been selected to receive the inaugural Curt Flood Game-Changer Award from the Rainbow Push Coalition on July 1.

Robertson was in the midst of his nine-year tenure as President of the National Basketball Players Association when he and his fellow player representatives filed their landmark class-action, anti-trust lawsuit against the National Basketball Association in 1970, seeking to prevent a merger with the American Basketball Association (ABA) and to remove the reserve clause and other restrictions on player movement. The settlement of this lawsuit paved the way to free agency for NBA players and ultimately all professional athletes. The Oscar Robertson Rule changed the balance of power in professional sports and ushered in a new era of expansion, growth and prosperity for the same owners who had fought the idea of free agency so vigorously.

"I am honored to have been chosen as the initial recipient of the Curt Flood Game-Changer Award,” Robertson said. “Curt Flood fought a lonely battle as he pursued better and more equitable conditions for major league baseball players as an individual. And while he may have lost in court, he opened the first crack in the armor of professional sports leagues. In my case, we were able to pursue our anti-trust action on a class action basis through the National Basketball Players Association, and the courts agreed with us at every step. Winning the fight for free agency on behalf of my colleagues was and is every bit as rewarding and meaningful to me as anything I was ever able to accomplish on the basketball court.

The namesake of the Curt Flood Game-Changer Award – at that time an All-Star centerfielder for the St. Louis Cardinals – sued Major League Baseball as an individual in 1970, seeking to overturn the reserve clause then in effect because he objected to being traded without his consent. His unsuccessful legal challenge effectively ended his career and he never saw any of the rewards of free agency.

“Curt Flood changed the game by sparking a movement to change players from athletic property into free agents,” said the Reverend Jesse L. Jackson, Sr., founder and president of the Rainbow Push Coalition. “Every player in professional sports today owes a debt of gratitude to him. To honor his legacy, we have created this award to recognize annually the Game Changers who have created new opportunities both on and off the field, and have directly advanced, improved, expanded and elevated the game.”

In addition to the legal implications of Flood’s actions, Robertson said the baseball player’s actions highlight an important message of freedom.

“As we celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act, it is also appropriate to look at what we did in the context of Civil Rights. Freedom is a civil right, and our freedom was restricted by the reserve clause. We knew that freedom is rarely granted freely; you have to fight for it. But our fight was about more than improved working conditions and more equitable compensation for the athletes involved. We were confident that if athletes were able to negotiate for themselves, and could be compensated at the same level as other entertainers, fan interest would grow and everyone would benefit, the owners even more than the athletes. And that is exactly what has happened.

Robertson, who was named “Player of the Century” by the National Association of Basketball Coaches, and set NBA records that are unlikely ever to be broken, will also participate in a roundtable on “The Business of Sports: Race, Diversity and Inclusion; Leveling the Playing Field on and off the Field” at 3 p.m. on July 1. Other NBA alumni among the panelists are Spencer Haywood, Robert Horry, Terry Cummings, Cedric Ceballos and Jayson Williams. Scott Rochelle and Mark Scoggins will represent the National Basketball Retired Players Association, which Robertson co-founded and served as its first President.