NIL pioneer Ed O’Bannon: ‘My job is done’

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Former UCLA basketball standout Ed O’Bannon started the battle to allow student-athletes to profit from their name, image, and likeness when he sued the NCAA in 2009.

After 12 years, he credited LeBron James and others for helping to finish the job.

In a first-person account published in the Los Angeles Times, O’Bannon said it was an episode of James’ show, “The Shop,” in October 2019 that helped student-athletes earn the right to receive compensation. The NCAA dropped its amateurism roadblocks to clear the way for NIL deals to begin Thursday.

The movement in other states and with the NCAA was triggered in part when California Gov. Gavin Newsom, surrounded by James, WNBA star Diana Taurasi and O’Bannon, signed the state’s Fair Pay to Play Act, making California the first state to enact such a law after O’Bannon’s successful lawsuit.

“In the years after the trial, it almost felt like we were on a treadmill, kind of running in place, and I just felt like a huge part of the turn was LeBron. Once he voiced his opinion about the lawsuit and the whole situation, it was a turning point,” O’Bannon said. “He didn’t have to because he had nothing to do with college, went directly from high school to the NBA. My face was on this issue, but he put a more familiar face and obviously a bigger name to the situation. The fact he lent himself to what we were trying to accomplish was gigantic.”

Now 48, O’Bannon is long removed from his playing days and is working as a juvenile probation officer in Clark County, Nev. He said he doesn’t want credit for student-athletes receiving the right to profit off their names.

“I know people are excited for college athletes to be able to use their NILs. I’ll keep up, check them out and see what they’re doing, but again, my job is done,” he said. “I don’t want to be a part of it. There’s no big celebration planned, any of that stuff. It’s their lives, and whether they know what we did prior to them getting their contracts makes no difference to me. I will watch from a distance. I just hope everybody is happy.”