Mormon Basketball Star Pioneered Unrestricted Free Agency in the NBA

Tom Chambers
Tom Chambers, Phoenix Suns. Image via

Nearly a quarter century ago, NBA players had little to no say as to where they would play basketball. Now, NBA’s biggest stars are heavily weighing their options and will be able to hand-pick the next move in their career.

Fox Sports reports that before 1988, unrestricted free-agency was practically non-existent in the NBA. Almost always, the only way a player was going to have the opportunity to switch teams was if he was traded. This all changed with Tom Chambers, a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and a now retired NBA athlete.

During the 1987-88 season Chambers played for the Seattle SuperSonics and, over the five seasons with Seattle he averaged 20.4 points per game. He was named the 1987 All-Star game MVP, but felt unsure as to where he fit in with Seattle’s future. However, he assumed he would sign to play with them again. Fox Sports quotes Chambers saying that it was at this time that Larry Fleisher, a rep from the players union, called his agent and said:

Hey, hold off on signing with the Sonics because we think we’ve got something coming down the pike here that may be revolutionary for the NBA.

[quote_box_right]”It was a great opportunity for me to be able to pick a team that fit me and wanted me…”[/quote_box_right]

After receiving that phone call, Chambers and his agent decided that it would be best to wait and see what happened—and it’s a good thing they did. Changes were made to the collective bargaining agreement which required a player to play two full contracts with one team before making the move into unrestricted free agency. Chambers, qualifying as a veteran player, was one of the first to try out free agency, and said, “it was a great opportunity for me to be able to pick a team that fit me and wanted me and was able to pay me more money.”

That next season, Chambers made his move from the Seattle SuperSonics to play for the Phoenix Suns, marking the beginning of unrestricted free agency. Players in the NBA today have even less restrictions than Chambers had, but Chambers says that free agency has been great for the NBA:

I think it’s gone really well for all involved, and the players now have a lot more power than they ever did before, and that’s a good thing because they’re the ones whose livelihoods are at stake. If they can pick and choose that a little bit and pick a city where they’re wanted and where they’re going to be able to maximize their skills, then that’s a good thing.

Although it may be great for the players and coaches, Chambers thinks that the fans definitely got the short end of the deal. He explains that with the ability to move from one team to another, there isn’t much team loyalty from the players.

Read more about how Chambers pioneered free agency in the NBA at

Kylie is a writer at and graduate of BYU with a degree in Broadcast Journalism. She grew up in a Chicago suburb where she gained a passion for the Chicago Cubs. She enjoys writing and live event video production.