In 1980, a graduate of St. John’s University School of Law and of New York University (NYU) became the first Executive Director of the newly founded National Basketball Coaches Association (NBCA). This former Branch Chief of the U.S. Securities & Exchange Commission (SEC) was its guide during the years of major growth of pro basketball and assisted in NBA head coaches gaining substantial increases in their pension benefits and in partnership with the National Basketball Association (NBA), helped many coaches get many unique marketing opportunities. He also represented several NBA and collegiate coaches and general managers in negotiating their contracts, along with getting deals for them in marketing and broadcasting opportunities. Last Friday, the NBA world said goodbye to this unknown man, who was best known for wearing bow ties.
Michael H. Goldberg, the general counsel of the upstart American Basketball Association and the longtime head of the NBCA passed away last Friday. The cause was cancer, his daughter Susan Goldberg said to The New York Times. He was 73-years-old and is survived by his wife the Linda Wittenberg; their two daughters Lauren and Susan and two grandsons.
“The National Basketball Coaches Association mourns the loss of a leader, pioneer and trusted friend,” NBCA President and Dallas Mavericks head coach Rick Carlisle said in a statement on Friday. “In life and career of remarkable achievement, Michael H. Goldberg fought for the betterment of NBA coaches with intensity and compassion. He will be remembered for his humility, loyalty, kindness, and signature bow tie. Within our profession, Michael authenticity and polite persistence made him iconic. I have always been in awe of this man who did so much for so many and asked for so little in return.”
Among the many achievements of Mr. Goldberg in his over four decades working for the NBCA consisted of raising both the domestic and international profile of NBA coaches. He also increased the retirement funds and disability insurance for NBA coaches.
Besides the great work for the NBCA, Mr. Goldberg was well respected person, mentor and a friend to many in the NBA community and he was tireless advocate, whose passion, heart, and humor made life for many coaches easier and greater.
To honor the great service of Mr. Goldberg, the NBA last week announced that the NBCA is going to name its own Coach of the Year award after Goldberg, that will voted on by head coaches only and for the rest of the 2016-17 NBA campaign all coaches will wear a special “MHG” bow tie shaped lapel pin during games.
Also, all NBA coaches during Thursday's contest through Sunday will be wearing bow ties in honor of Mr. Goldberg.
“Michael Goldberg was a beloved member of the NBA family and a dear friend to me,” NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said Friday. “For more than 40 years in professional basketball, he poured his passion and energy into strengthening and growing our game. Dressed always to the nines with his trademark bow ties, he advocated relentlessly for NBA coaches and was one of the driving forces behind the league’s growth. We mourn his passing and send our deepest condolences to his wife Linda; his daughters, Lauren and Susan; and his many friends and colleagues.”
Mr. Goldberg’s journey in pro basketball began when he joined the ABA in 1974, when it was the troubled challenger to the NBA. The ABA distinguished itself with a red-white-and-blue basketball and a three-point line.
Even with all that and elite star players like Hall of Famers Julius “Dr. J” Erving, Artis Gilmore, Dan Issel and George Gervin, the league was unable to get over its financial problems or the need for a national TV contract.
Mr. Goldberg main job was to advise one commissioner Tedd Munchak and another in Hall of Famer and former New York Knicks’ star Dave DeBusschere and aide in negotiating a merger between the two rival leagues.
When the dust settled and the leagues worked out a deal, the NBA absorbed four of the seven ABA teams, the New York Nets, who today are the Brooklyn Nets; the Indiana Pacers, the San Antonio Spurs, who have five titles to their name now and the Denver Nuggets.
“The ABA owners were tired and on the road to bankruptcy,” Mr. Goldberg said in the 1990 book “Loose Balls: The Short Wild Life of the American Basketball Association,” an oral history to the league by Terry Pluto. “For nine years, millions upon millions of dollars were spent. It took so much energy, so much credibility, just to stay in business. The ABA simply ran out of gas.”
When the Nets, Pacers, Spurs, and Nuggets joined the NBA, they agreed to pay the owners of the Spirits of St. Louis, who unfortunately were excluded from the merger 1/7 of each of their annual payments from their national TV deal.
As the NBA signed rich deals that increased one after the other, the Spirits’ owners Ozzie and Daniel Silna received about $300 million, even though they no longer had ownership of the team.
“What was missing was someone saying, ‘Thirty years, 50 years, or until something happens, and it’s over,” Mr. Goldberg said in 2014 after the NBA reworked the deal, which gave the Silnas a $500 million lump sum and reducing rising annual payments.
Mr. Goldberg was born on Mar. 16, 1943 in Manhattan, NY to a lawyer Jacob Goldberg and the former Etta Herman, a department store coat model and homemaker.
Upon graduating from the previously mentioned NYU and St. John’s University School of Law, Mr. Goldberg joined the United States Coast Guard Reserve.
While he worked as a section chief for the SEC in New York, he met with a lawyer named Donald Schupak, who asked for his assistance in understanding why a client’s request to expedite a public stock offering had been rejected.
“He helped me, and when we were done, I said, ‘I owe you one,’” Mr. Schupak said in an interview.
That favor happened when Mr. Schupak served as the lawyer for the Silnas and the Spirits and he recommended that Mr. Goldberg become general counsel for the ABA.
Once the deal was made that merged the ABA and NBA, Mr. Goldberg opened a sports marketing firm called National Media Group. His Clientele consisted of Olympic gymnast Mary Lou Retton, Schick, American Express, sportscasters and professional leagues in various sports. He then became the great executive director of the NBCA and the rest is history.
Former NBA Commissioner David Stern, in an interview said that Mr. Goldberg, “intensely represented his clients and did it with a minimum of confrontation and a spectacular sense of humor. He is an historic figure in the history of the NBA.”
Besides the amazing work that Mr. Goldberg did for the NBA and in the business world, he became very well known for his bow ties he wore, which he owned more than 100 of them.
He told “New York Magazine” two years ago, that he began just wearing them in the summer time, but when he started working in the sports business, he found that people would remember him and be like, “Oh, you’re the guy with the bow tie. And I thought, ‘Well, that’s not bad, that’ll be my little brand.’”
Mr. Stern once recalled that when Mr. Goldberg visited his office in New York, NY, he would sometimes bring him a gift: a long skinny tie.
For over 40 years later, the NBA is a thriving league that is known and very popular across the globe and its coaches both head and assistants are the best of the best. That would have not happened if not for the efforts and tireless dedication of one Michael H. Goldberg. An unknown to many in the public, but a champion and giant to many in the pro basketball world.
“He had a sincerity and a way of doing things that I’d call polite persistence. He’s been the fulcrum for getting things done over several decades,” Carlisle said in a telephone interview on Monday about Mr. Goldberg.
Carlisle continued expressing his admiration of Mr. Goldberg during the in between the 1st and 2nd quarters of the Mavericks' Thursday night tilt at the Oklahoma City Thunder on TNT when he said to sideline reporter David Aldridge, "We've lost a hero, but his contributions will live on for decades for both future coaches, future players... We're very sad to see him go, but his work will live on for generations."
Information and quotations are courtesy of 1/21/17 article from www.nba.com, “Longtime NBCA Executive Michael H. Goldberg Dies;” 1/22/17 news section of NBATV news crawl and 1/23/17 New York Times article, “Michael H. Goldberg, 73, Lawyer Who Bridged A.B.A. and N.B.A., Dies,” by Richard Sandomir and 1/26/17 8 p.m. contest between Dallas Mavericks versus Oklahoma City Thunder on TNT with Brian Anderson, Brent Barry and David Aldridge.