NBA general managers are circling the wagons.
ESPN reported this morning that plans to form a front office executive association, similarly structured to the National Basketball Coaches’ Association, are in their final stages, and have been in the works since March 2021. The association will support GMs with legal defense funds, public relations assistance, and lawyer referrals. While this association was planned out before the investigation into Trailblazers’ GM Neil Olshey, sources told ESPN that the Portland situation made it clearer than ever that an association of this sort was necessary.
This quasi-union for some of the wealthier and more powerful executives in the sport (estimates show that Olshey, for instance, makes over $6 million a year) comes at a time where the initial public reaction to this attempt to close ranks is, understandably, suspicion. With multiple accusations of racism, sexism, and toxic workplace cultures throughout the NBA garnering public attention this year, my first thought is that these GMs think that they have something to hide. No, they’re not on the same level as the billionaire owners like Robert Sarver, but I do question whether they feel that their jobs and livelihoods are precarious enough to need the kind of protection provided by an association of this sort.
They’re not protecting themselves against the turnover that comes with a failing team, but against “for cause” firings that would allow organizations to avoid paying out a GMs contract following termination. Sources told ESPN that the Olshey investigation “stoked fears” among executives throughout the country who think that organizations are now searching for ways to find contract violations to pin on execs when the real reason for parting ways might be team performance or personality conflict, both of which would require the contract to be paid out. The drop in revenue and attendance across the league after the COVID season is another reason that the GMs believe the organizations are looking for ways not to pay.
This association feels like an attempt to sidestep accountability while prematurely claiming that any accusation that comes out will be a false one. What we have to learn from the Olshey investigation is probably not that GMs are unfairly mistreated — in fact, the formation of this association tells me that there’s probably a lot more employee mistreatment than we know of— and that the execs are gearing up to create a legal and PR defense system that will absolve them of these accusations. This attempt at self-protection by partnering with a number of other highly-paid and powerful front office men comes at a time when employees have finally felt empowered enough to speak out against hostile workplace environments.
So the question remains, are the GMs afraid of organizations making up “for cause” violations, or of any actual violations coming out to see the light of day? While the Olshey investigation is ongoing — and while it’s important to keep in mind that the association’s formation began before the Portland investigation — this feels like a last-ditch attempt to preemptively soften any potential damage to their reputations.