SIMON GOURDINE cannot dribble or shoot a basketball very well, and he would probably need a chair to slam-dunk. But in a pro basketball league that is dominated by tall, muscular black men with enormous skills, the relatively short, slightly-built Gourdine is the most powerful black of them all.
Gourdine, 38, is the deputy commissioner of the National Basketball Association and its chief operating officer. He earns his salary, estimated at $75,000 a year, by handling the day-to-day operations of the league.
His position makes Gourdine the most powerful black in professional sports management in the country. He is sensitive to the significance of that distinction.
"When you're black and move up in any organization, its a double-edged sword," he said. "It probably helps you in the lower levels, but hinders you as you move up.
"Being black and being in this position hits you at times. It makes you feel good. What I don't ever forget is that I've got to be as good as I can be all of the time. This particular position doesn't allow you to have a bad day or a bad game. I owe much to black people, so the record has to be good. It has to withstand any scrutiny.
"You cannot ignore being black. If you can't accept the burden of being black you shouldn't get into sports management."
There are those in professional basketball circles who believe that Gourdine might be the NBA commissioner today if it had not been for the pending merger four years ago of the NBA and the American Basketball Association. It was felt that a person like Lawrence O'brien, with extensive experience in Washington, was needed to guide the league through such a phase. So O'brien succeeded Walter Kennedy in 1975.
Gourdine has stayed on in the second slot, with an eye toward being No. 1.
"When I first came here I felt that one day I could run this league," he said. "I still believe that. I don't perceive of myself as ever being a career No. 2 guy."
Gourdine brings to his job a background in law and management.
After a stint in the Army, Gourdine, a graduate of CCNY and Fordham Law School, worked for the U.S. attorney's office in New York, the Urban Coalition and the Celanese Corp. before going to the NBA.
"I had a friend who just called one day and told me Walter Kennedy was looking for an assistant with a legal background. I applied and got the job. That was nine years ago.
"I had to get it on merit because I had no sports connections at all. There was a value in my being black, but I certainly wasn't hired because I was black."
Gourdine just completed a 14-week program for managerial development at Harvard and now says he has had "the formal legal training, on-the-job managerial training and now formal, intense training at Harvard."
Gourdine, who lives in New York City with his wife, Patrica, and sons David, 9, and Peter, 6, has a contract with the league until Feb. 1. 1982.
"It's been a good nine years and it's been fun," he said. "For right now, I just want to help make the NBA the best it can be." CAPTION: Picture, Simon Gourdine