Undergraduate Honors Theses

Thesis Defended

Spring 2016

Document Type

Thesis

Type of Thesis

Departmental Honors

Department

History

First Advisor

Thomas Zeiler

Second Advisor

Mithi Mukherjee

Third Advisor

Patrick Ferrucci

Abstract

This thesis examines the congressional hearings in 1971 and 1972 regarding American professional basketball’s request for an exemption from antitrust law. Starting in 1970, the players of the National Basketball Association fought in court and Congress to change the league’s business practices, in particular the reserve system. This labor contract structure involved a series of rules and restrictions that kept the players bound to a team without recourse to negotiations in a free market. The American Basketball Association, created in 1967, offered an alternative by forcing teams from the two leagues to bid against each other for players. When the leagues agreed in principle to merge into a single entity in 1970, NBA players sued them on the grounds that a merger would eliminate competition, maintain the reserve system, and, thus, violate antitrust laws. The lawsuit, Robertson v. National Basketball Association, by restricting the two leagues from merging, compelled the leagues to petition for a congressional exemption. Hearings before Congress took place between September 1971 and September 1972. The hearings became a referendum on league practices and the rights of professional athletes, and, this thesis argues, the catalyst to changing the reserve provisions to a free-market system.

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