Mark Anthony Neal suggests that NBA players might respond to the lockout by forming their own league. He also points to the Negro leagues as a possible inspiration, given that 80 percent of NBA players have African heritage. The Negro National League, he writes,
did much more than entertain; it was a logical extension of the Black owned world that Blacks were forced to navigate in the era of State sponsored racial segregation. Ironically, as William C. Rhoden notes in his book Forty Million Dollar Slaves: The Rise, Fall, and Redemption of the Black Athlete, the Negro National League “marked one of the last times that African Americans controlled their own major-league sports organization.” (102)
A basketball Players League would, obviously, be quite different from the historical Negro leagues, for reasons I hope I don’t have to explain. The parallel between the Negro leagues and the proposed league does work to the extent that an ex-NBA league, assuming it really was largely self-financed by players, would certainly involve a lot more input and control by black athletes than any other major sports league since the Negro leagues. However—the Negro leagues were not really self-financed. Yes, a few players or former players—most notably Rube Foster—eventually became owners, and Foster of course founded the Negro National League. But most of the ownership ranks were filled out with non-players, many of whom were white. The Negro leagues were not players’ leagues in any sense.
A better baseball parallel might be the actual Players League of 1890. There were no black players involved, but it was the literal equivalent of what Professor Neal is suggesting. At that time the players collectively commanded much less capital on their own, and so had to seek outside financial backing. This proved the league’s weak point (as I understand it anyway). A. G. Spalding was able to exploit the investors’ lack of commitment and solidarity, and the Players League never played a second season.
Would it happen this way again? Clearly NBA players have greater collective financial resources, although I have no idea whether they have enough clout to finance a league completely by themselves. One suspects some form of outside investment would have to be secured. I really don’t know how practical or likely the whole scheme is—probably not very, but who knows?