NEW YORK -- Simon Gourdine, who became deputy commissioner of the NBA in 1974 and went on to work for and lead the players' association in the 1990s, has died. He was 72.
The NBA confirmed Gourdine died on Thursday, though the cause of death was not released. He was living in the Bronx.
"Simon Gourdine made an extraordinary impact on the National Basketball Association over his nearly 20 years of service with our league," Commissioner David Stern said in a statement. "As both the NBA's Deputy Commissioner and Executive Director of the Players Association, Simon brought the same zeal, integrity and excellence that he exhibited from his days as an Assistant U.S. Attorney.
"The NBA family has lost an innovator and a great friend."
Gourdine, a graduate of City College of New York and Fordham University Law School, became the NBA's attorney in 1970 and was hired as deputy commissioner by Commissioner Walter Kennedy. At the time, he was the highest-ranking black executive in professional sports.
He helped negotiate a labor deal that created free agency in the NBA in 1976 and helped the league absorb the Spurs, Pacers, Nets and Nuggets from the ABA.
He left the NBA in 1981, but returned to pro basketball in 1990 as general counsel for the National Basketball Players Association. In 1995, he became executive director after Charles Grantham resigned during contentious negotiations on a collective bargaining agreement.
Gourdine ended up negotiating a deal that ended an NBA lockout and created a rookie pay scale. He was offered a contract to remain executive director, but the players refused to agree to it and he was pushed out in 1996. An arbitration panel awarded him nearly $1 million.
He is survived by his wife, Pat, and three children, David, Peter and Laura.