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Is The NBRPA Relevant? by James Donaldson

Is the National Basketball Retired Players Association (NBRPA) Relevant?

I would like to begin this “exposé” with a few quotes that have been made directly to me, while I served as a Board of Director for the NBRPA.

“I Am Just the Spook Who Sat by the Door”, as stated by current board chair, Spencer Haywood *

*This is stated to me by current board chair, Spencer Haywood, during an earlier phone conversation between he and I in March/April 2018

The context in which it was stated, was that Spencer and I were having a conversation in regards to he trying to get me into one of the leadership positions with the executive committee or to chair one of our additional committees. He told me he was running into a lot of “blockage” by some of his colleagues, most specifically, Dwight Davis, Nancy Lieberman, Dave Cowens.

He knows that he is way over his head as far as being, board chair, and after years of feeling “blackballed” by the NBA for his landmark lawsuit opening the way for underclassmen to come into the NBA, he knows that he is being used by the NBA to keep an eye on our Association, therefore is the reason, he described himself as just “The Spook Who Sat by the Door”.

Spencer is a good man, who means well, but is in no way qualified to be a board chair.

I sent a letter to Spencer and to the Board of Directors, after us board members, were notified that Spencer took it upon himself, as board chair, to negotiate the terms of employment directly with Scott Rochelle. He was supposed to involve the full board so that we can all have some say in it.

 

“This is exactly what the NBA wants to see, newly hired Pres./CEO, Scott Rochelle in that position….. James Donaldson, we want you to be okay with this and go along with it”, as stated by an executive with the NBA **

**This was stated to me by a top-level executive from the NBA during the All-Star weekend, in February 2018. After they received word that the majority of the board, voted to hire Scott Rochelle as the next Executive Director. I was one of the few who voted against it, and that’s what started to put these “wheels in motion”.

It was mentioned to me at that point, that this is exactly (the hiring of Scott Rochelle) what the NBA wanted, and I was asked at that point, to “be okay with it” and to “go along with it”.

 

“Are you back on the plantation now?”, As stated by newly hired Pres./CEO, Scott Rochelle ***

***Scott Rochelle mentioned this to me in a one-on-one conversation, during one of our conferences in New Orleans, where I was pushing the leadership to reinstitute the “open mic” portion of the members-only meeting. “Open mic” is the portion of the members-only meeting, in which members are allowed to come up and speak directly into a microphone to address the whole membership body. It was eliminated at that time, because leadership no longer wanted to hear from the members, and has not been reinstated to this day.

By silencing the member’s voice, and taking away their opportunity to interact directly with the leadership of the Association, unless a member is absolutely adamant and persistent, he/she will never be heard. That is all by design, thus, “keeping us all on the plantation”.

 

The reason for this “exposé” is not so much to criticize the NBA or the NBPA (National Basketball Players Association), but to give them greater insight into exactly how dysfunctional and poorly organized, the NBRPA, has been over the last couple of decades.

I’m writing this article, based on my 7 years of activity as a Board of Director for the NBRPA.

I was just reelected in June 2017, to serve another 3-year term on behalf of the members who elected me.

I ran my campaign, based on the fact that I would always represent the members to the best of my ability, encourage our board to provide a greater sense of “transparency”, and for me to be that voice around our board table, that will continue speaking out on behalf of the members.

A recent turn of events has been put forward and what I feel is an “unauthorized” method by our Board of Directors, to silence me and to terminate my position on the board.

On July 5, 2018, a board conference call was convened, to address allegations/accusations that were made towards me, when I recently ran for the position of Pres./CEO of the NBRPA in January 2018. According to our bylaws, I (the subject) am to be given adequate notice of time, and also an opportunity to present myself in front of the Board of Directors, neither one of which occurred.

I recently, on July 1, 2018, submitted a “request for a medical leave of absence” to the Board of Directors, effective immediately, since in June 2018, I spent 2 1/2 weeks in the hospital undergoing additional heart surgery, pertaining to the major heart surgery I had in January 2015. That request was neither acknowledged or granted. I was asking for a 3-month leave of absence.

Also, there were a couple of other ridiculous allegations/accusations dating back to 2012 and 2014, which were handled in an appropriate way.

The problem with our Association is that we continue to operate behind a “veil of secrecy”. It’s often been said, the best way to keep people “in this case, our members” in their place, is to keep them ignorant, uneducated and uninformed. And, unless we all ask questions and demand accountability from our leadership, you’re not going to receive any. Your leadership of this Association, will continue to “patronize” you, “throw you a few crumbs”, put on a little “pony show”, all in an attempt to keep you distracted, somewhat entertained, and hopefully content with a couple of “reunion get-togethers” (Summer Summit and All-Star weekend “if you can afford it”).

I was on the board, when former NBA commissioner, David Stern, came in to address our board meeting, as the NBA does every year at our board meetings during All-Star weekend. I remember Mr. Stern, specifically stating, that the NBA gives us over $1 million a year, to “keep us out of the market”, and basically, as some of our current players heard this year, to “shut up and dribble”. I’ll never forget that moment. But, it’s true. We are essentially funded by the NBA, but in exchange for the funding, and the opportunity to call ourselves The National Basketball Retired Players Association, a.k.a. Legends, a.k.a. Legends of Basketball, we “sell our soul” down the river, and give up basically all rights we have to license opportunities, revenue-generating opportunities, corporate partnerships unless all are agreed to and signed off on by the NBA. (at the NBA’s discretion, of course)

That’s why nothing ever “trickles down” to our membership.

For a nonprofit organization such as us, 40% – 50%, of the gross annual revenue that comes into our Association, goes towards salaries, benefits and compensation to the staff that works out of the Chicago office. That is a huge percentage of a small nonprofit like us, that operates on less than $2 million a year.

I know many of us join the Association, in hopes that opportunities will “trickle down” to our membership, but, 99.9% of us, are all waiting in vain.

The NBA has a couple of dozen of recently retired NBA players under contract, so anytime there is a need to utilize a retired NBA player, they automatically reach into their pool of contracted players, and continually overlook any members from our Association. (Harlem Globetrotters and WNBA players, are in an even worse position)

The purpose of this letter, to our membership, is basically to educate you, inform you, and to “lift the veil of secrecy”, so that you will have a better understanding of how “your” Association works. When I was running for reelection, I kept reiterating and letting all of the members know that “this is your” Association. You pay the dues, you sign up for it, you attend the conferences (at your own travel expense, and sometimes hotel and ticket expenses, especially for All-Star weekend), and, this Association would not even exist without you. You vote on who should represent you on your Board of Directors, but I’m sure many of you don’t realize, you also have the right to convene a “special members meeting” in which you can vote to remove Board of Directors just the same. Of course, your leadership is not going to inform you or educate you on all of your rights.

I don’t have any “sour grapes” to air. I have thoroughly enjoyed my time serving our membership body. I knew going in, I would be in the “minority” and sometimes “vast minority” in regards to any votes that went towards benefiting the members. That’s okay, that’s the challenge I took on, and I went into it with my “eyes wide open”. There were times, albeit, very few times, where your board representatives who have your best interest at heart (Eldridge Recasner, Johnny Newman, David Naves, LaRue Martin, Sam Perkins, Steve Hayes and Johnny Davis, just to name a few of the outstanding board members that I have served with most recently), actually had the majority votes, and we were able to pass just a few things on your behalf. The rest of the time, the majority of the votes, go towards trying to benefit the Pres./CEO and his staff in the office in Chicago and travel and business expenses.

And even for us board members, we are never able to thoroughly “go through” the numbers and to get detailed information back on to exactly how our money is being spent. If you’ve ever taken a look at our financial statements, especially pertaining to salaries from the Chicago office, you’ll see that most of the line items, are “whited out” when it comes to how much we pay each and every staff member, and what your overall bonuses and incentives are for the year. A call for a “detailed and thorough audit” has been asked for by a few of us for years, but to no avail. If one is ever done, that is information you’re entitled to.

The problem I’ve always seen with this Association and board is that very few board members have any “business acumen” nor have ever served on “legitimate, efficient and effective boards” in the past. So, as with all organizations, everything begins from the leadership positions on down. There been many occasions over the years, where particular board members, have benefited individually, either by having monies channeled to their foundations/charities that they have set up to benefit themselves, arrange to have paid speaking engagements and appearances, on behalf of our Association, or NBA, been put in positions that they have long craved for that will benefit them career-wise or opportunity wise.

Your Board of Directors, should never personally benefit from being a board member. All that we are entitled to (on a volunteer basis), are:

  • one coach airline ticket to and from conferences and the NBA All-Star weekend
  • one standard size, regularly priced hotel room
  • two tickets for every event at All-Star weekend
  • and, we typically receive a “gift bag” that has T-shirts, sweatshirts and a travel bag
  • of course, all meals pertaining to NBRPA business, are paid for, only during the board meeting

That is all we are entitled to and should benefit from the NBRPA.

I have witnessed, thousands of dollars being spent towards board member’s charities, foundations, events that they are personally hosting or involved with.

I have a request out to the board, for the NBRPA, to purchase a table at the Maurice Lucas Foundation events, that will take place in October 2018. Something like that, in which we will have a table at the event, representation of the NBRPA, and hopefully ½ a dozen or so retired NBA players who would like to sit at the table, is really the most that we should be doing. It goes to benefit a wonderful cause, and also a former NBA player.

Anytime any of us “blow the whistle” as I am doing, and any of these activities, we are immediately castigated and reprimanded and threatened with breach of confidentialities.

At this point, my desire is to rejoin the board, but, in all honesty, I think I can do a lot more benefit on behalf of the members “on the outside pissing in” than on the “inside pissing out”.

I have worked very closely over the years with the various Chapter Presidents, and quite a few numbers of members, keeping them informed (without breaching any confidentialities), and have listened to the frustrations of how the national office, expects for our chapters around the country, to be viable, self-sustaining, revenue-generating opportunities, when they are woefully underfunded, and run by volunteers. That’s not a good recipe for success.

There’s very little respect for our chapters, our Chapter Presidents, or appreciation for the responsibility they shoulder for keeping the chapters alive in the first place.

At this point, I want to share a little bit of the history of how and why I got involved with the NBRPA.

I retired from the NBA in 1996, and for about 15 years, and years before my retirement, I had heard of all of the “dysfunction”, “grumbling”, “backbiting and total ineffectiveness” of the NBRPA. For that reason and that reason alone, I stayed away from it.

In 2009, I was running for political office here in my hometown of Seattle Washington, as I was a candidate for the office of Mayor of Seattle. Of course, when one goes through the extreme vetting process that I did to become a public official, one of our task at hand, is to try to figure out who our constituents are and also where our support (many times financially) is going to come from.

I looked towards the NBRPA, and my good friend, former Pres./CEO, Charles Smith, was the executive director at the time. I was thinking, that if nothing else, it would be a wonderful networking opportunity for me to connect and reconnect with so many of my colleagues and peers from the NBA. Perhaps to get “endorsements” or “financial contributions” to my campaign. My efforts even then in working with the NBRPA, were negligible, to say the least, but I did have a chance to reconnect with my friend, Charles Smith. Of course, I signed up to be a platinum member with the NBRPA, and Charles Smith encouraged me to run for a board position, which I did, and was on the board for three years, mainly and primarily in support of Charles Smith and his business acumen and overall vision for the NBRPA.

Charles and I, traveled over to China in October 2010 and accompanied and tagged along with the NBA as they put on a couple of exhibition games, one in Beijing, and one in Guangzhou.

I acknowledge, that Charles was under strict directives, “not to sign anything”, but once we got to China, and I personally attended a couple of meetings on behalf of Charles and the NBRPA, we were able to put together “memorandums of understanding” on $3 – $4 million worth of, basketball camp opportunities, basketball sneaker opportunities, basketball gear (sweat suits, jackets, etc.), and at that point, Charles and I worked on putting together a “nonbinding” memorandum of understanding, that detailed exactly what was possible in the China market.

Once we got back to the States and conducted our next board meeting, the board “figuratively” slapped him around, reprimanded him, and took a vote to terminate him within the next 30 – 45 days.

This was, atrocious and unbelievable to witness, especially since I was right there, and I know that all these opportunities were legitimate. Doing business in China, so much of the business opportunities are built on “Guānxì” (relationships and saving face), so if you going to do any type of business in China, you have to show “good faith” by at least producing a “memorandum of understanding”. Of course, or board leadership at the time didn’t understand the first thing about this.

The board leadership at that time was comprised of George Tinsley, Otis Birdsong, and Bob Elliott. There was never a shared vision, of how to move our association forward. Charles Smith was able to envision grand opportunities, outside and away from the NBA umbrella and control, a lot of the other leaders within the Association, wanted to stay closely connected to the NBA, mostly in hopes of opportunities that would benefit themselves.

I shared Charles Smith’s vision, and at that time, began many of my own individual efforts into the China market, first, building the relationships necessary, and second, looking for opportunities that would (individually) benefit the retired NBA players.

The search soon began for Charles’ replacement, Danny Schayes came in as the interim CEO for approximately six months, and then a national search was put out to find our new Executive Director. Me, and current (at the time) board member, Bo Kimbell, were two of the candidates that made it to the final round for the position. Of course, it was all kept confidential and a secret from the members, so that the board leadership can go about doing what they wanted to do.

The board (I ended up recusing myself in the process since I was a candidate as well) ended up hiring Arnie Fielkow, a former New Orleans city councilmember and businessman from the city of New Orleans. “Legend and allegations” have it that a couple of our board members, George Tinsley, Otis Birdsong and recent termed out board member, Mack Calvin, were all involved with minority business opportunities, and New Orleans, after Hurricane Katrina, was busy handing out minority business opportunities all over town.

Arnie Fielkow, being one of the recent New Orleans City Council members, and still closely aligned with them all, was able to offer those opportunities, in exchange for being hired by the NBRPA to be its next Pres./CEO. Those rumors and allegations exist to this day. Being a board member during that era, I was privy to quite a few conversations that were taking place.

Thus, began the Arnie Fielkow reign and administration for the next seven years.

Arnie, being the slick and adept politician that he was, was able to do a lot of maneuvering amongst the board members, to continue to build support in his favor for whatever it was he wanted to do.

The “inner circle” of George Tinsley, Otis Birdsong, Marvin Roberts, Bob Elliott, and Arnie Fielkow, essentially ran the organization, regardless of what the rest of the board members thought or said. After George Tinsley, Otis Birdsong, Marvin Roberts and Bob Elliott rotated off the board, they were just as quickly replaced by the next round of board leaders who were “in Arnie’s back pocket”, and many times unbeknownst to them, were just being used to be his voice in front of the membership group, which Arnie (and also, Scott Rochelle) were never totally comfortable addressing. And so for the next three years, at least, the board leadership consisted of Thurl Bailey, Dwight Davis, Nancy Lieberman, and NBRPA founder, Dave Cowens became much more involved as well.

Big bonuses and incentives were awarded to Arnie and his staff in Chicago. A much larger percentage that should have been allowed for a small nonprofit such as our association.

At this time, because I was always one to call attention to how the board should be functioning, and proper board protocol, I was constantly “ostracized” for speaking out and addressing things that needed addressing.

At the All-Star weekend in Los Angeles in 2011, I was suspended from the board for 45 days, supposedly for “working too closely with the members”, and, “working too closely with our former executive director, Charles Smith”.

In regards to the members, the members were putting together a “members only specially called” meeting during All-Star weekend, in which they were going to address the board, and possibly, according to the rights within our bylaws, recall and terminate some of the board members that they did not feel were representing them well.

I was in the hotel lobby as I typically am during the weekend, and quite a few of the members were coming up to me asking me where the “special members meeting” was taking place. I would give them directions down to the large conference room where it was taking place, and for that, I was supposedly “working too closely with the members”. Bob Elliott, who I believe was the board chair at the time, gave me a “verbal warning”, and during the board meeting that took place during the weekend, it was voted upon, to essentially terminate me from the board, against all bylaws and proper protocol. I spent 45 days away from the board activities, and then I arrange to have my attorney and myself on a conference call with the board in which they were given a quick lesson in board governance, and it was determined that they did not follow proper protocol, and I was allowed to return to board activities.

In 2012, fellow board member, Marvin Roberts, was accused and alleged to have sexually molested/assaulted a young coed at the Utah State University. If that would’ve happened in this day of “me too”, our whole Association would’ve been investigated from top to bottom, and probably disbanded.

I wrote a letter to the board, asking that Marvin Roberts should be put on “leave” until the investigation is complete. The board refused to do so, and I just brought it to their attention that this is what we ought to do. For that, I was given a “written warning” reprimanding me for supposedly character defamation against Marvin Roberts. Nowhere in my letter did I ever defame Marvin Roberts, and I will make that letter available to all of you

This latest “warning” is in regards to a supposedly “breach of confidentiality” in regards to the interview process for our latest Executive Director search for the NBRPA. Being a long time board member, I filled out all of the appropriate paperwork and applications to submit my name to be considered a candidate for the position. Because this current board leadership is just as “dysfunctional” as the previous board leadership group, there was no way that they wanted for me to have the opportunity to be interviewed for the position. Back when we hired Arnie Fielkow, a precedent was set, where (even though, it is not an official part of our bylaws or policy procedure) I, and Bo Kimble were both allowed to automatically become finalists because we were current board members. I asked for that same consideration this time around and was denied, therefore I was forced to put together a letter addressing the search committee (chaired by Dave Cowens) and the Board of Directors, letting them know that a precedent had been set previously and that I should be allowed to interview for the job position.

In my letter, which again I will make readily available to you, I do mention both Scott Rochelle and Lloyd Walton, both of them associated with our association, as a couple of people who would be running for the position. I should be allowed to run just as well. Besides, I’ve been a 6-year board member at the time, and have a great deal of historical knowledge, and also tremendous resources that I could bring to the Association. I had one of our association members, Len Elmore (a previous interim CEO for the NBRPA) write a letter on my behalf, to the search committee which Len was serving on as well. It was met with tremendous opposition, but Len and I persisted, and the search committee finally relented and at least gave me the opportunity to be interviewed. I was interviewed via video conference from Chicago to Seattle, but that was okay, whereas, they flew all of the other candidates (except for one) into Chicago for face-to-face interview meetings. I knew that I didn’t have a “snowball’s chance in hell”, but I just wanted to be allowed to go through the process.

For that, because I mentioned Scott Rochelle and Lloyd Walton in my letter, supposedly I broke some type of “confidentiality clause” which I was not aware of. I have since talked to Lloyd Walton in depth for a 45-minute telephone conversation about a month ago or so, and he stated to me that “no harm was done” and that his current employment, does not have any type of restriction against employees seeking or interviewing for additional employment opportunities.

So, for that, this is how we got to where we are.

On July 5, 2018, the board, against my resistance, went ahead and convened a board conference call, in which I did not participate, and according to our bylaws, I do have the right to “address the full board” since I am the subject matter, and apparently the majority of the board, voted to terminate my position.

On July 1, 2018, I did submit a “request for medical leave of absence” to the entire board and to our Pres./CEO Scott Rochelle, requesting for an immediate medical leave for the duration of three months. That request was never acknowledged, nor discussed with me at all.

 

In Summary:

This letter/article is meant to basically “shine a light” on the total ineptness and dysfunction of our leadership of the NBRPA, especially at the board level.

Too many board members are in it for their own “personal gain” and could care less about our individual members.

Too many board members, have their “hands out” and hopes to garner opportunities for themselves, or resources for businesses, charities or foundations in which they are personally involved with.

Too many board members, do not want to hear what the members have to say. I would say “customer service” is at an all-time low, where the office in Chicago, will not return phone calls to members and Chapter Presidents in a timely manner.

This letter will find its way into the hands of the NBA, the NBPA, and I’m sure many media mainstream outlets. I hope so at least!

For good reason, there has been a “nonexistent” relationship between the NBRPA and the NBPA. Executive Director, Michelle Roberts, as made it clear, that until we “get our house in order” there will be very little if any support from the NBPA.

The NBA, of course, always keep in its image and the possible “best light”, continues to support the NBRPA, basically as a nice PR move, in which they can point over to us and say, they are supporting our organization. (There is a big difference between supporting organization, and utilizing members from our organization)

NBRPA members, I hope the time has come for you to finally “wake up” and take control of your Association. Make sure you hold the leadership of your Association, accountable, and make sure that they are totally transparent in the free flow of conversation and information back and forth to you. If not, you vote the leadership onto the board, and you can remove them at any time.

For me myself, I’ve got tremendous opportunities overseas in China which I’ve been developing for years, matter of fact I just heard from a large hotel chain, that wishes to bring over quite a few of our retired NBA players to do basketball camps and appearances. I will be putting that together, especially for 2019. We will make sure that you all get well compensated, and all travel arrangements are taking care of. Stay tuned!

I do hope to continue serving you as a board member, and hopefully we can somehow find a way for “bygones to be bygones”, if not, I probably will not be a regular attendee at the conferences and All-Star weekend, but I am in touch with quite a few of you on an individual friendship basis, and that will continue the rest of the way.

 

All the best all of you, even when I was an active NBA player, the retired NBA players were my “passion” and my “family”. That still is the case, as I mentioned earlier in my letter, there are no “sour grapes”, but I didn’t want to “shine a light” on this whole thing, and the hope set our association leadership will clean up its act, and that we will finally have an association we can be proud of and happy to be part of.

 

All the best to a bountiful future:

 

James Donaldson
NBRPA Board of Director (2009 – 2012, 2013 – 2016, 2017, 2018)

 

 

 

 

 

 

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