Game Changer: Al Ross: The Man Who Transformed the NBA

In 1971 one man fought the ABA and the NBA all the way to the US Supreme Court–and won!

Determined and principled, rookie lawyer Al Ross fought for players who had been underpaid and badly treated by team owners. Against the odds, his victory transformed the game of basketball as we know it, and its impact is still felt today.

Al Ross is a sports and entertainment attorney turned real estate mogul. He fought hard for all his athletes and entertainers, especially against the racially charged ABA and some of its franchise owners, most of whom were very wealthy, powerful white men. He did so to ensure his athletes (mainly young, black athletes) got the best deals imaginable and a fair shake.

Set against the backdrop of The Civil Rights Movement, perhaps, his biggest fight was against racism in all the world of professional sports. Al, then a young sports agent and newly admitted lawyer to the California Bar went to war on behalf of the then very young, very talented, Spencer Haywood, who was being horribly mistreated and racially discriminated against by the ABA, specifically, the Denver Rockets owner and franchise. Al assembled a team of legal experts and took Spencer’s case all the way to the US Supreme Court where Al and his team won the verdict. This win would not only benefit his client, the young Haywood, but would forever change the lives of so many young players who came after Spencer and benefitted greatly from the verdict. It changed the NBA and the world of professional sports forever by instituting The Al Ross “Hardship Rule”.

The ABA/NBA connection was only the beginning of his illustrious career. He dealt with some of the best players, talent and most powerful men in basketball, football, baseball and entertainment. He negotiated in basketball against Jack Kent Cook, then owner of the L.A. Lakers. Sam Shuman, owner of the Seattle Supersonics, Abe Pollen with Bullets, Jerry Colangelo with the Suns, and in football against Al Davis of the Raiders and Don Shula then of the 1972 undefeated Miami Dolphins, and many others.