Bartelstein clears the air about top agents' view of NBA players' union
There have been many reports about agents pushing for union decertification
Mark Bartelstein, one of those, says his colleagues support Billy Hunter, players
He said reports of agents trying to 'blow up the union' are inaccurate, illogical
Just a guess here, but I'm pretty sure Billy Hunter's voicemail was full Thursday night. And chances are, the messages being left weren't all from NBA players calling to praise him for a job well done at the latest National Basketball Players' Association meeting in Las Vegas.
You can bet that at least a few agents called to voice their disappointment with their own demonizing.
Between Derek Fisher's open letter to the players, NFLPA head DeMaurice Smith's 30-minute speech on player unity and Hunter's pointed comments to the media afterward about how the players are behind him even if others aren't, there was an anti-agent sentiment in the Vdara Resort conference room that was impossible to ignore. This pressure cooker had been percolating in the weeks leading up to the meeting, as numerous reports detailed how a group of five power agents (Arn Tellem, Mark Bartelstein, Bill Duffy, Dan Fegan and Jeff Schwartz) were pushing for decertification of the union, no matter if Hunter was on board.
"I think the problem is that most of the stories that are written are written by reporters who don't interview the players," Hunter had said when asked about the scrutiny that surrounded him. "You don't hear from the players. So I don't get the kind of negative feedback from players that I get from some of the articles that you guys write."
The inference being, of course, that the agents are the ones stirring this pot.
But several agents outside of that group who spoke with SI.com in the days that followed expressed frustration that the players' unity seemed to come at their expense. Specifically, numerous agents took great exception to Fisher's questioning of their motives in the letter and his claim that they are non-communicative with the union and unwilling to be part of the solution.
Bartelstein -- the well-respected agent of 25 years whose Priority Sports firm represents the second-most players in the league, according to DraftExpress.com -- is certainly among that crowd. In an interview with SI.com, he discussed the perceived misconceptions surrounding the pro-decertification contingent, his continued desire to work in unison with the union, and the convenient reality that his agenda just so happens to be the same as that of his players:
On the notion that agents are scheming to "blow up" the union:
"There's an inaccurate perception out there that there's this group of agents -- including myself -- that have decided to quote-unquote blow up the union, or destroy the union, and nothing could be further from the truth. That's not true at all. I know that I, personally, and other people have engaged and try to engage with Billy and [NBPA lead attorney] Ron Klempner and everyone at the players' association throughout this process.
"I've been the first one to say that Billy is in a very, very difficult position. He's in a very tough position, because the NBA has taken an extremely hard-line stance from Day 1. The initial proposal [from the owners] ... was Draconian to say the least, and Billy is in this position where he's trying in good faith to get a deal done, but you can't negotiate by yourself.
"And so in my prior thoughts and with people that I've conversed with, I've tried to help the union, to explore different ideas and different ways to try and bring this thing to a positive resolution -- a resolution that's not only good for the players, but good for the game. If there's a game that's good for the players, then ultimately they're going to benefit because the game is going to grow. That's been the goal all along. It has not been to take down the union or anything like that. There's never been a conversation like that. Every thought that I've had I've tried to communicate with Billy. But I have a lot of players who count on me to a) explain what's going on, b) give my thoughts, and c) make sure I'm doing everything I can to help do what's in the players' best interests. That's my job."
On the idea that agents put their own interests ahead of their clients':
"I think the other thing that makes no sense is that people say that some agents don't have their players' interests at heart. Those statements are illogical, because I'm partners with my clients. I only benefit if they benefit. It would make no sense for me to ever advise my clients to do anything that wasn't in their best interests. That just makes no sense at all.
"I have one agenda. My business is predicated on my clients being successful. ... On top of that, these players put their career dreams in my hands and I have a duty to make sure I'm exploring everything I can in terms of helping bring this thing to a positive resolution. That's my job. I'm going to do that, but I've always been doing it in concert with Billy and the players' association.
"I just take real offense when people say we're doing things that aren't in the players' best interest. And from a business point of view, it makes no sense."
On whether working together with the union is still possible, or if there are now separate tracks:
"My goal has never been to have two separate tracks. My goal from Day 1 was to be unison with the union. We're all in this together. We all have the same goal, which is coming up with what's best for the players and what's best for the game. I reach out to Billy all the time. I haven't talked to him in two days. I want to strategize with Billy. I've been doing this for 25 years. I feel like I have a really good feel for the business, and I want to work with him to come to a resolution. I'm hoping to talk to Billy [on Monday] maybe."
On reports (SI.com included) of the agent power play:
"The way this thing reads, it's like there's all this plotting going on. That's just not true. The idea has never been to blow up the union. This idea that there's a secret agents to blow the union up is completely wrong. The idea that there's this diabolical plan going on is wrong."