AP Interview: Union president Chris Paul talks labor deal

MIAMI (AP) Chris Paul faced great uncertainty when he became president of the National Basketball Players Association three years ago. The league was changing commissioners, the union was seeking a new executive director and another round of labor strife seemed unavoidable.

That was then.

Whatever fears there were in 2013 are gone now, with the league and its union having reached a tentative agreement on a new collective bargaining agreement and the relationship between the oft-contentious sides going along as swimmingly as ever. Yet on Thursday, one day after this new proposed deal was struck, Paul wanted no congratulations or credit - instead lauding everyone involved for getting it done.

''I don't know if relief is the right word,'' Paul, the Los Angeles Clippers' All-Star point guard, said Thursday in an interview with The Associated Press. ''But it's a really good feeling.''

The new CBA, if approved by players and owners, will last seven seasons with an opt-out available after six. Average salaries will continue to soar, players will be asked to endure fewer back-to-back and four-game-in-five-day stretches, and players who will soon be coming into the league will reap benefits that no rookies have before.

But to Paul, the biggest win in this proposed deal is what it will mean for former players - especially with regard to better health care.

''For me, it's crazy to go into arenas now where former players who work for teams - broadcasters, stuff like that - and that's probably the most humbling feeling there is, those former players coming up and saying `Thank you,''' Paul said. ''It's not about me. It's about all the guys. That's what I think what history will talk about with this deal. This wasn't a deal just for the current players, for incoming players, but the players who paved the way for us.''

Helping retired players with their medical expenses was something that other superstars, like LeBron James and Dwyane Wade, said they wanted addressed as well.

''That health insurance stuff is invaluable, man,'' Paul said. ''You don't understand that as a 19-year-old coming into the NBA. I do know, as a father of two kids and having gone through life. If anyone asks me the best thing about this deal, it's that. Not even close. That.''

Paul becoming president of the NBPA is a story in itself.

He went to Las Vegas for the union's meeting in 2013 not even considering the presidency, and then got approached by Jerry Stackhouse and other players about filling the role. Paul had a long talk with his wife, and agreed.

''I thought I had way too much on my plate at the time, my own life, family, kids, business things, stuff like that,'' Paul said.

Clippers coach Doc Rivers had the same worry.

''Just make sure you don't overwork yourself. Do your main job and then do your other job was my only advice,'' Rivers said. ''I think he's done a really nice job of it. He's been very involved but it really hasn't taken away from his job. That's hard to do but he's done it.''

The new deal was tentatively struck Wednesday, one day before the sides faced a deadline for opting out of the current CBA.

There was never a ripple of trouble during these talks, at least not when compared to the cantankerous ones in 2011 when the league locked players out for 161 days and led to that season being shortened from 82 to 66 games.

Paul was part of the negotiations then, and was leery of dealing with the same this time around. But he and other players who were on the executive board - Paul paid particular credit to Cleveland guard James Jones - often kept how much work they were doing secret, and kept plugging away at getting what will be the next CBA done without a hitch.

''It's not about me,'' Paul said. ''I'm going to tell you, I can't say enough about James Jones. He was the first person I called and said `Congrats.' It's a lot of phone calls, a lot of flights, a lot of things like that that people don't know about. James Jones is one of the most selfless people you'll ever meet. Without him, this doesn't happen.''

Paul wasn't sure Thursday when the players will vote, though indicated it could happen long before the new deadline of Jan. 13 to get this deal officially completed.

''I'm happy for our players, and most of all, the fans,'' Paul said. ''When you're younger you don't realize how much these decisions affect the fans and why we are able to play this game, and while we all do work extremely hard to be able to do this, the fans are what give us this opportunity.''

SI Apps
We've Got Apps Too
Get expert analysis, unrivaled access, and the award-winning storytelling only SI can provide — from Peter King, Tom Verducci, Lee Jenkins, Grant Wahl, Andy Staples and more — delivered straight to you, along with up-to-the-minute news and live scores.