Lamar Odom crisis spurs union plans to help NBA players adjust to retirement

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BERKELEY, Calif. – National Basketball Players Association executive director Michele Roberts told Yahoo Sports that Lamar Odom's crisis has "reignited" discussions to create a program to aid NBA players who are transitioning toward retirement.

Michele Roberts (AP)
Michele Roberts (AP)

Odom was found unconscious at a brothel in rural Nevada last week in extreme critical condition. He was in a coma and suffered kidney failure, but has since begun physical therapy. Roberts has never met Odom, but said his incident has "reignited how much more" NBA players need a transition player program. Since being hired on July 29, 2014, Roberts says she's heard "dozens of stories" of how hard it is for NBA players to adjust to retirement.

"There are a lot of things that we need to repair with the NBPA," Roberts said a day after speaking to law students at the University of California-Berkeley. "There has been a dearth of services in terms of adhering to the guys' needs. One of the things we spend a lot of time dealing with is the complete absence of any type of transition program for the guys. On one hand you would say that's the responsibility of the [National Basketball] Retired Players Association, but they don't have the resources.

"We're sort of deciding how we can fill that space. Technically, our players are paying dues for services of current members. So there will have to be some buy-in. There is also clearly a lot of buy-in from the membership in terms of our operating health insurance for any retired player. The desire to be supportive of retired players is there among the current members. But what we need to figure out and create is a transition program under the auspice of the NPBA with the collaboration of the NBRPA. Lamar is a great example of why it needs to be done."

Roberts said she has been in detailed communication with Odom's agent since his incident. The outpouring of support for Odom from current players made an impression on her. She hopes a day will come when Odom is able to speak to young NBA players so they can learn from his story.

"I want him to hear from me, a complete stranger, about the unbelievable amount of love that he has and the responsibility he has with this second chance to turn things around," Roberts said. "I think life after basketball is lonely. To me the story with him is, if you don't have an adequate support system when you do make that transition, these are the kind of consequences that are possible. We look at it as an opportunity to engage in discussion with the players about life after basketball and making sure that a support system will help you avoid those kinds of mistakes."

Lamar Odom (AP)
Lamar Odom (AP)

The NBPA also recently started putting together a program to fund cardiac screening and supplemental health insurance for retired players. It was sparked after former stars Moses Malone and Darryl Dawkins suffered heart attacks before recently passing. Roberts said the NBPA had a meeting with the NBA on Tuesday about the cardiac screening program and is hopeful it will launch soon.

Roberts is also optimistic the NBA will have a similar partnership for a player transition program.

"It's a question of money. It's a question of staff. It's something that the NBPA is going to have to handle and we will see if the [NBA] has any interest in ponying up some dollars to see if we can both do something mutually that's beneficial," Roberts said.

The NBPA and the NBA have an option to terminate their Collective Bargaining Agreement on or before Dec. 15, 2016. Roberts, however, is optimistic that the NBPA and the NBA will reach agreement on a new CBA beforehand. She said she has been having positive regular monthly lunch meetings with NBA commissioner Adam Silver.

Roberts hopes to begin negotiations with the NBA on a new CBA in November.

"We are about to launch into substantive CBA discussions," Roberts said. "Hopefully, the good faith that we look forward to bringing into the discussions will continue. I cannot complain. I have not found [Silver] on the surface to be anything but quite earnest."

Roberts' optimism is in part because of the nine-year, $24 billion media-rights deal the NBA signed with ESPN and Turner Sports last year that will dramatically increase player salaries. She also said Silver has not mentioned anything that would suggest the NBA owners are considering another lockout of the players like they did in 2011.

Silver "says he does not want a work stoppage," Roberts said. "And I said, 'You know what, neither do we.' We have that common ground. … I wasn't there, but I've been told and I read, that during the last negotiations that the owners were very clear that there would be a substantial reduction modification of the [basketball-related income]. I guess they were serious because they locked the players out before they got what they wanted. That's not how we are beginning these negotiations.

"I've not been given what is essentially an ultimatum from the owners, nor have we gone to the owners with an ultimatum. That is not where we view where we are right now. And so that gives me reason to think that no one is saying, 'Look we need this or we walk, or I need this or we lock you out.' We're starting at a place where we are not going to be strident about things."

Silver, however, also said in the offseason that there are NBA teams still losing money.

"I'm assuming that is information given to him by owners," Roberts said. "I don't think he's making it up. That's information that is conveyed to him. I don't know that he believes it. I assume he does because he said [it]. I don't believe it.

"And what I mean to say is I don't want to say people are lying. … It may be that [teams] didn't have a positive [financial result]. But to say that therefore that the value of their franchise is in anyway diminished is a different question. C'mon, this game is exploding in terms of popularity and revenue."

Roberts said she was happy with the NBPA's first-ever Players' Awards last July in Las Vegas. She said the event would return next offseason to an NBA city deemed popular by the players. She mentioned Los Angeles, New York, Atlanta and Miami as possible options.

"It was something we did with very little lead time," said Roberts, who will give the commencement speech for Cal's law school next year. "It's going to be a bigger event because we now have done it. The guys really loved it and enjoyed being able to honor their own."

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