WITHIN THE FAMILY
By Alex Sachare ’71
I worked for Larry O’Brien in the early 1980s, when he was
commissioner of the National Basketball Association. O’Brien
had come to the NBA from the world of politics, where he was part of
the inner circle of President John F. Kennedy and Senator Robert F.
Kennedy. A former chair of the Democratic National Committee and postmaster
general, he’s perhaps best-known as the man whose office in the
Watergate complex was burglarized on June 17, 1972, starting the chain
of events that brought down President Richard M. Nixon.
O’Brien was a politician who practiced the art of the compromise.
He believed that when you had opposing sides, you sat them down at
the bargaining table and kept them there until they reached an agreement,
and the best agreement was one that neither side loved but both could
live with. If only one side left the room happy, he felt he hadn’t
done his job as a mediator and a negotiator.
That’s why the NBA
hired O’Brien in 1975, at a time when
professional basketball was a troubled sport with two warring leagues,
teams facing bankruptcy and economic chaos. O’Brien quickly achieved
a merger agreement between the leagues and a pact with the players’ union
that would pave the way for an era of prosperity under the leadership
of Commissioner David Stern, a young lawyer who had served as the NBA’s
outside counsel and was brought into the league office by O’Brien.
Stern, a 1966 graduate of the Law School, soon will complete his tenure
as chair of Columbia’s Board of Trustees, but I digress.
of O’Brien and the idea of never being able to make
both sides happy when we started receiving feedback about our July
cover story on New Hampshire Senator Judd Gregg ’69, a conservative.
I observed that both in volume and tone, these letters and e-mails
paralleled those we received shortly after we ran a cover story in
January about Columbia’s other U.S. Senator, Barack Obama ’83,
a liberal. It doesn’t seem to matter whether we profile a conservative
Republican or a liberal Democrat; either way, we upset some of our
readers, and we hear from them.
I take this as a good sign. I like when
alumni react to our articles. I enjoy positive feedback, welcome story
ideas, appreciate constructive criticism, acknowledge our shortcomings
and accept negative rants. Reaction is good. Feedback is even better.
fact is that the College has two alumni serving in the U.S. Senate,
one a conservative who graduated in the ’60s and the other a
liberal who graduated in the ’80s. I’m glad we profiled
both and I’m glad we put both stories on our cover. The College
should be proud that it helped mold these civic leaders of diverse