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,
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.