Q&A with NBPA President Derek Fisher
SI.com: Billy Hunter called the hard cap a "blood issue," but they're acting like it's a blood issue on their end as well. Why?
Fisher: However we view the numbers, we still don't agree that the [league's] losses are at the magnitude that they are, but let's say for conversation purposes we agree that there is a certain level of loss being incurred by the teams -- regardless of what the system is. Let's just say the system is to the side for now. If you're able to reach an agreement that provides you with a certain level of economic relief that helps you resolve the economic issues, then why does the system need to change?
Secondly, no matter what level of salary cap or compensation that will be paid out on an individual team, with a hard salary cap, you essentially wipe out the ability for a team to be able to guarantee a certain number of contracts. It's inevitable, and that's something that in basketball that we don't view as a positive thing. We're not advocates for guys gaining contracts and long-term security and not doing their jobs; we're advocates for guys earning and being paid for performance, etc. But we don't believe that in basketball, that guys consistently facing non-guaranteed contracts, then having to literally go to battle with each other.
SI.com: Doesn't the game itself come into play there? In football, an offensive lineman in a contract year can't do a whole lot on his own to take away from the team and will still do his assignment.
Fisher: That's our opinion and that's what we've expressed. And because we play the game, we obviously feel we have a better viewpoint on that perspective that it really would negatively impact the way the game of basketball is played.
SI.com: There was a time when you guys seemed to think that A) the owners were determined to lose games, that B) they want a hard cap and C) it seemed like the commissioner might have told the new owners and his constituents that I will get these things for you in negotiations. How do you see that now?
Fisher: I can't really begin to speculate on what conversations he has had, where the commissioner and the ownership stands on their key principles and their priorities and what exactly they're looking for. In my opinion, they should be looking for a fair deal that doesn't necessarily give us or them everything that they want, but it's a reasonable, fair place to be considering where the game is right now. And let's get back to work and grow the game. Outside of that, I think that's where you run into problems.
SI.com: Is a desire for more parity the end-all, be-all of why they want the hard cap?
Fisher: I guess for them it is, but we've been clear that that assumption is false. From guys who actually played the game, there isn't an economic system that will set in place how competitive the games are going to be. That comes down to coaching and training and strategy and focus and commitment to being a champion. Whether you're making one million or one dollar, if you want to be the best and you want to compete at the highest level, you will. So that's what we firmly believe and that's why the conversation becomes a little bit muddled when we're trying to be sold on that fact that if we put this system in place there will be more parity in the game.
By default, we have over half of the teams in the NBA that have a chance to compete for a championship every year, and then another seven or eight teams are within three to five wins each season of making the playoffs. So you're talking about maybe five or six teams that are maybe on the outside looking in. But generally, 22 or 23 teams per year have legitimate chances of making the playoffs and winning a championship.
SI.com: And you're coming off a postseason in which the Memphis types and Oklahoma Citys are taking part ...
Fisher: We've seen it before. And having played against those teams myself and obviously a lot of our players compete against those teams, we're not thinking about what level of salaries are being split between the two teams when we're out there on the floor. We're competing to win, and so we just don't buy into that theory that somehow setting up a hard salary-cap system or some system element producing the action on the court.
SI.com: What's the experience like for you? Are you enjoying any part of it and how does it fit into where you might end up seeing yourself career-wise down the road?
Fisher: I am enjoying the opportunity to lead our contingent, to lead the players into what will be the next generation of NBA basketball, so to speak. This agreement will set the bar and the foundation for the way the game is produced and played from this day forward. So I'm enjoying being in a position where not just my experiences or my voice, but the voices of everybody are coming together to seek the most reasonable and fair resolution. It's challenging. It's hard work. But I appreciate that part of it. I feel like I'm growing from it. I'm learning from it. I'm surrounded by great people and great guys. We have great guys in this league. I know people appreciate the athleticism, but we have great young men.
So from there, I don't know. I wouldn't venture to guess how this impacts the post [playing] career of Derek Fisher, so to speak. But I do know that I'll be better from the experience. Whatever walk of life I choose to go into, I'll be better for having walked this walk and taken this stand with these guys.
SI.com: When you looked at this meeting, and you might feel the pressure building in the room, and you have some ideas and you put them in place and then guys respond and it seems to work, is that gratifying?
Fisher: I appreciate what you're saying, but I think the gratification in this process just comes from taking an active role in this process and knowing that these guys appreciate what I'm attempting to do and what we're attempting to do as an executive committee. I recognize the ebbs and flows when you're facing difficult issues, but I'm not looking at today in a vacuum, so to speak. The true gratification will maybe not even realize itself until I'm long gone from here. That's the place that I'm in today and the days before now, but I'm still focused and ready for the challenges that will arise as we go forward, because this won't be the last day that we have to put this type of effort in to make sure we're staying together as a group.
SI.com: I wanted to touch on the Billy situation for a minute. There's so much scrutiny about him from the agent ranks recently. Where is his role right now, and how do you handle it in terms of deciding when the time is right to defend him?
Fisher: I think Maurice Evans said it best in the article that he participated in last week or several days ago. He touched on how far the players' association has come since Billy has been the executive director, the job he has done to serve and to protect the rights and the ability to earn the income that's been earned by NBA players since he came on board. You know, the value that people believe that commissioner [David] Stern has provided to NBA owners over the last 25 years or so, Billy has done work in a similar fashion that has provided that type of value to NBA players over the last 16 years. And in my opinion, that value for him has not changed.
I personally believe that Billy has seen a lot, and he has been through a lot. I think sometimes how frank he is and how direct he is -- to me it's a passion and at times I think there's frustration in his voice and his approach because he wants to make sure that all players truly recognize their full value in this place and in this sport. He comes from a time when professional athletes didn't have these windows of opportunity, and so I think that's where the passion and the frustration sometimes comes from. He just wants these young men to be everything that they possibly can be and take full advantage of what this world is presenting to them right now because when he was 37 years old or 27 years old or 19 years old like our guys are now, this would not have been possible.
SI.com: That's a very different picture than the one that sometimes gets painted of him by his critics.
Fisher: Yeah, sometimes people just like change and don't like things to remain the same too long. I face it at work. Regardless of how much success teams that I've been on have had, people still find a way to say, "He needs to go." That's just the reality of life sometimes.
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