NBA Lockout Watch, Day 89: Fisher Sends Letter To Players Ahead Of Today's Meeting
Lakers G and NBPA President Derek Fisher in a letter to players "called for unity, stressing that 'we drive this game' and insisting that he still believes there is a 'divide' in ownership ranks that will ultimately lead to a labor agreement the players can accept," according to Marc Stein of ESPN. Fisher "preached patience," saying, "We can't sell ourselves short for instant gratification." He wrote in part, "Our game has never been more popular and we're poised to see tremendous revenue growth over the next 5 to 6 years. ... We must share fairly in the continued growth of our business. Any deal that decouples us from a fair share of the revenue growth in the years ahead is a deal we cannot accept. Period!" Fisher reiterated the union's opposition to a hard salary cap, writing, "Unless you, the group we represent, tell us otherwise, we are prepared to hold the line for as long as it takes to preserve the system we've worked so hard to build." Fisher also indicated that the owners "remain divided over a revenue sharing model," and added that the union "still believes a stronger revenue-sharing system would help resolve economic issues facing the league's smaller market teams." Fisher: "It is my belief that if they can get us to be short-sighted and agree to an unfair deal they won't have to share more revenue amongst themselves. They will have gotten what they need from us. We can't allow that to happen guys. Not under any circumstances." Sources have indicated that a deal "must be struck by Oct. 15 at the latest to preserve a scheduled start of the regular season Nov. 1." Sources also said that the union canceled a regional meeting scheduled for today in Miami "so its negotiators can resume talks with the owners in New York." Stein noted it "remains to be seen if Fisher's comments that the union would back away from its longstanding opposition to a hard cap -- if the group at large consents to that concession -- represents a softening from the union side or become a rallying point that strengthens the players' resolve to resist it" (ESPN.com, 9/26).
BETWEEN THE LINES: CBSSPORTS.com's Ken Berger writes Fisher's words were "as important for their intended targets as for their content." Berger: "Point No. 1: The owners are divided, Fisher reiterated, with enough of them not willing to lose an entire season for the privilege of instituting a hard salary cap. Point No. 2 was a more subtle, better crafted version of what Fisher delivered in his first letter to his fellow players: Despite what your agent might be telling you, [NBPA Exec Dir] Billy Hunter and I will not sell you out for a bad deal." This was a "carefully worded shot at the agents representing enough players to force a vote decertifying the union." Berger writes Fisher has "cleverly run a trick play in an attempt to screen off the power brokers who also have more in common with [NBA Commissioner David] Stern, Hunter and indeed the owners than they do with the players: the agents, the men who have the power to torpedo a deal." Sources said that some of those agents "are beginning to make noise that they will urge their clients to reject a deal presented to them by Hunter and Fisher if it doesn't meet their clients' needs." One source said that the union's latest proposal "called for the players to agree to a salary freeze for the 2011-12 season -- no less than the $2.17 billion they earned last season -- and then reduce their share to 54 percent of BRI as a starting point in the rest of a six-year deal" (CBSSPORTS.com, 9/27). CBSSPORTS.com's Ben Golliver wrote conventional wisdom "and the size of their respective checking accounts suggest that time is on the owners' side; here, Fisher tries to flip that idea on its head to reclaim some leverage and bolster internal confidence." The problem "with this tactic is that it will continue to read like empty [rhetoric] until the owners make a proposal that moves anywhere in the vicinity of a deal" (CBSSPORTS.com, 9/26).
ON DECK: On Long Island, Alan Hahn reports talks will continue today in N.Y. "between the league and the players' union with a sense of urgency to reach a deal" for a new CBA. This next round of negotiations "is expected to remain a small group, as has been the recent trend." Stern, NBA Deputy Commissioner & COO Adam Silver and Spurs Owner and NBA Labor Relations Committee Chair Peter Holt are "expected to represent the league," while Fisher, Hunter and attorney Ron Klempner "will be on hand for the union." Stern was "scheduled to appear at Yankee Stadium this afternoon to join" NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman and MLS Commissioner Don Garber for a Beyond Sports United event called "Sports Teams for Social Change." It is "not known if Stern will make this appearance or whether he will remain at the negotiating table." Hahn writes one "notable difference between this lockout," and the '98-99 work stoppage "is that star players are far less visible and vocal now." Most of the "current stars have stayed out of the process and are instead focusing on playing charity games" (NEWSDAY, 9/27). Hahn wrote Fisher is "flanked by a collection of middle-class players who may have the intellect to represent their constituents, but there's just no juice at these meetings." Hahn: "Wouldn't their status give the union some bargaining power?" Knicks F Carmelo Anthony, when asked about the issue, suggested a "presence of censorship within the ranks." He said, "We're not allowed, we're not allowed." He added, "Athletes today are scared to make ... statements" (NEWSDAY.com, 9/26).