Fisher answers lockout questions after productive players meeting
In an exclusive interview, Derek Fisher said players are focused on staying unified
Fisher believes a rift among NBA owners could help further lockout negotiations
Fisher said NFLPA head DeMaurice Smith's presence was powerful and educational
LAS VEGAS -- The room was finally his.
Surrounded only by empty chairs and a big-screen television that still had the NBA players' motto of "STAND" across the screen, union president Derek Fisher sat back in his seat inside this swank hotel space on Thursday afternoon. Colleagues who had asked the hard questions and shared their frustration were gone, having left with buoyed spirits and much-needed resolve in this lockout. NFLPA head DeMaurice Smith had left, too, his message of unity successfully shared after Fisher so brilliantly invited the man who knows these types of struggles to share his wisdom.
Fisher looked like a statesman, of course, his tie still tight and shirt still tucked. Union head Billy Hunter had even used that word in the news conference to discuss the day's events not long before.
But the 37-year-old Lakers guard, who is so known for his poise and polish, had to do much more than look the part this time around. He had to lead.
The room was theirs at first, those 40-something players on hand who had so much angst and doubt. Some spoke louder and more passionately than others, among them Celtics center Jermaine O'Neal, Warriors forward David Lee and Clippers guard Mo Williams, according to player sources.
The veterans had questions about the strategy, concerns about urgency and strong opinions about the importance of protecting the players who will make up the league when they're gone. There was even a moment of panic from Cavaliers forward Samardo Samuels, a 22-year-old, second-year player from Jamaica who wanted help deciding whether he should stick with the union stateside or head for Greece or Spain until the lockout smoke clears. Golden State forward Louis Amundson wanted answers, too.
Eventually, with the likes of Fisher and Hunter and NBPA vice president Maurice Evans calming the constituents, faith was restored.
Of the 10 players who spoke with SI.com, all of them insisted that this was not a public relations stunt, that perception met reality when it came to this unification. What's more, Fisher and the players are now convinced that there is a divide among the owners that they hope helps with a resolution. And then there are the agents.
Fisher took that challenge head on earlier Thursday, when his email to players, which was obtained by SI.com, accused some agents of acting on their own agendas and implored the players to support the union's efforts. There is a small but influential group -- Jeff Schwartz, Arn Tellem, Bill Duffy, Dan Fegan and Mark Bartelstein -- who are known to be pushing for decertification of the union.
So Fisher countered with a subtle but strong message in his letter, vowing to fight for the players he represents while naming a seemingly random group of 10 players: Blake Griffin, Tyler Hansbrough, Pau Gasol, DeAndre Jordan, Dwight Howard, Jrue Holiday, Taj Gibson, Danny Granger, Steve Nash and Luke Babbit. Upon further review, though, it appeared there was a meaning to be decoded: Each agent from the dissenting group represents two of the players cited.
It was all old news by the time Fisher sat down for an interview with SI.com. The room, and this microphone, were his.
SI.com: So are you fatigued at all through this whole process?
Fisher: Not really. The travel has been tough. But in terms of just energy and resolve, I'm good.
SI.com: This is an every-day, every-hour thing for you and the players committee. Do meetings like this give you a chance to make it clear to the guys how hard you're going at this?
Fisher: We talked about that a little bit earlier. It's one thing to keep our players informed via email or podcast and different vehicles. But there's a personal connection that evolves. We got the opportunity to sit down with our guys and talk to them directly. It's tough, obviously, during the season to have larger group meetings where 40 guys can show up and get information, but it's been valuable for us. Our summer meetings, our regional meetings, our All-Star meetings, they're key to us being able to evolve and do the job we need to do.
SI.com: With this meeting, I was curious to know when you decided to add a few wrinkles here with the invitation of DeMaurice Smith and the letter to the players? And what was the mentality too?
Fisher: I think the mentality was similar to what I just mentioned a second ago, is that I needed to personalize it even more than it is. I'm in constant communication with hundreds of players, so it's not that they don't have information and updates or get email responses or information from the NBPA website, etc., etc., but I sensed it was important to step up and take an even stronger leadership position and be willing to take the responsibility and the accountability that comes with the position. Not to sit back and allow influences from outside of the room to dictate the way my job and my tenure and how the job that I do will be viewed without taking proactive steps.
I felt like the letter was important recognizing that all 400 guys weren't going to meet every day, to let them know exactly how I felt, full force, without censor. And I felt like DeMaurice would do exactly what he did -- and that's to give a different perspective on the same issue, and I think he did a fantastic job of enlightening our guys and giving them a glimpse into where he was just months ago in terms of all the decisions that he had to face and how they were able to navigate the waters.
SI.com: Was the bottom line of his message "unity"?
Fisher: Yeah, that was Point One, Two and Three. He was very frank and open and honest with the guys, but it always came back to that No. 1 issue. That's really what got the deal done for the NFLPA, was the players staying solid and staying together. At the end of the day, that's the only leverage that you truly have. There are things that can truly happen for you good or bad through other avenues, but it all requires the same one principle and that's that all players have to remain together.
SI.com: Looking back at last week, when the two sides met on back-to-back days and were believed to be progressing, how confident or optimistic did you allow yourself to be in terms of feeling like you had the structure of a deal in place or at least a certain understanding? Why do you think it went south on Thursday, when the sides met again and reported a serious setback?
Fisher: Well, I think to be honest, I don't know that we walked in believing -- well, I know we didn't walk in believing -- we had an understanding and that we were in an agreement that we're close to getting a deal done and so when we show up here today we're going to finalize it and get it done. But I do think we were clear going into Tuesday that any proposal or idea that we discussed relating to economics, that whatever place we ended up, the system would largely remain the same. If we were, and had been, willing to make significant concessions economically, that we need our system to remain the same. If we were able to provide economic relief, then there's no need to change the system.
So coming out of Tuesday, what I gained and gleaned from the meeting was that there is still a very strong divide among the ownership group in the league itself and that they haven't found a way to solve some of their issues related to revenue sharing and other items that have to be tackled among their group -- small-market team, big-market team, those things. So regardless of what proposal, ideas, concepts we put out, other than just totally capitulating and getting into the agreement that they want us to sign presently, there isn't anything else that we can do until they figure that out. That's what I would hope can happen obviously for the season to start on time but even for us to play basketball again in the near future.