The last time a group of top athletes held a summit of any serious significance was November 1966 inside a small suite room in Cleveland. The meeting remains one of the most under-discussed gatherings in the history of sports.
It happened not long after Muhammad Ali beat Sonny Liston a second time. Ali would go on to express his objections to the Vietnam War for religious reasons and quickly became one of the most hated men in America.
|All-Stars/free agents Chris Bosh, Dwyane Wade and LeBron James could change the NBA landscape. (Getty Images)|
Brown convened the group, which included Bill Russell and Lew Alcindor, to Cleveland. It was an impressive display and the eventual public backing of Ali by the 13 athletes buoyed Ali to continue his public stance.
Now it's 2010 and another group of athletes might convene in a highly public and discussed gathering. No, it's not even close to the Ali Summit, but it's still remarkably significant and practically historic.
Whether they physically meet, gather by conference call or group Twitter, LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh, Joe Johnson and possibly Amar'e Stoudemire will soon plot their free-agency leanings and possibilities.
The future discussions actually loom larger than the playoffs themselves and the criticism of them has been intense and furious. We seem to be uncomfortable with our athletes being too friendly with one another. We want them to be mean, cold blooded sum-a-bitches like Kobe Bryant, who wouldn't get within a 100-mile radius of such a thing.
The critics don't understand just how big a deal this is. In too many instances it seems the only things athletes can organize is a trip to an Armani outlet or chasing gams. Now they're using their clout to pool resources and maximize profits. Don't see the problem here.
In fact, this is fantastic. Very Sopranos-like. Don LeBron calling a meeting of the Wade and Bosh families. Better show respect.
What the players are doing is very American. Utilize your power, get cash and take advantage of your bargaining position. It's capitalism at its finest.
The meeting represents the possibility that athletes finally -- finally! -- are organizing and flexing their considerable muscle across the NBA landscape. Or, at the very least, realizing they possess that kind of league-rattling power.
Currently, sports unions are getting steamrolled by leagues. The NFL union has been largely ineffective (we'll see how new union leader DeMaurice Smith does) and the NBA's union mostly the same. Unions fear management and it shows.
James, Wade and others might be able to exercise more power in one fell swoop than any group of athletes since that day in 1966. They can control the destinies of several franchises and dozens of players for the next decade. That is true power and good for them for understanding that fact better than many others.
Their meeting also tells other NBA players not to be frightened of organizing and plotting. It is, after all, what owners do all the time.
The players taking part are being called soft and egomaniacal. Former San Antonio player Bruce Bowen was outraged but he's old school and, like some other players, still possesses the plantation mentality that athletes are supposed to just shut up, play and not get every drop of money and power they can (the way owners do). Some fans are part of the hateocracy as well when many would do the exact same thing as these players.
James headlining the meeting is somewhat shocking since he is obsessed with not offending anyone and is the most milquetoast star in sports today, but I'm glad he's finally showing some signs of an intestinal tract.
If these players are somehow colluding, good for them. It's what teams and owners have done secretly for decades and if you don't believe that you're a fool.
No, this isn't 1966. Not at all, but it's the next best thing. Players are finally getting it. They can control and collude just like the owners and everyone else.
Good for them.