POSTED: Aug 19, 2012 10:35 AM ET
Former NBA Deputy Commissioner and Players Association Executive Director Simon Gourdine has passed away at the age of 72.
Gourdine joined the NBA in 1970, and was named NBA Deputy Commissioner in 1974, becoming the highest ranking African American executive in sports at the time.
In 1976, Gourdine was part of the landmark collective bargaining negotiations that created the NBA's first free agency system, an agreement that also saw the NBA absorb four ABA franchises.
NBA commissioner David Stern issued a statement on Gourdine's passing: "Simon Gourdine made an extraordinary impact on the National Basketball Association over his nearly 20 years of service with our league. 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. On behalf of the league, I want to express my condolences to Pat, their children, David, Peter and Laura and the entire Gourdine family during this time. Simon will always be remembered by his friends at the NBA."