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 Ford ham 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 situation."
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.