Paul Pierce has been a leader for labor during the lockout. If you look for his name on the list of executive committee members in the new now-defunct NBPA, you will not locate him. He’s been an unofficial leader, leading the charge in resisting the owners due to, in his words, having been there before in 1999. He and his Celtics teammate Kevin Garnett has been adamant in not backing down to the owners’ dungeon-master tactics.
In an interview with Yahoo! Sports, Pierce talked about his position and the motivations for it regarding the lockout. If you want the news-grabber, it’s this: Pierce says it’s on the owners to restart talks.
Q: Do the players or owners have to take the next step to renew labor talks?
Pierce: “I think the owners have to take the step. We have taken a lot of steps. I think we have taken as many steps as we can take, which is why we are at where we are at. We feel like we’ve taken the most steps. That’s why we are going to court now.”
Now the owners have certainly been the more intractable of the two sides, and anyone paying attention knows that it’s the owners who have been behind the labor stoppage, from locking the players out to slowing negotiations to unreasonable demands. But the owners provided the last proposal. One reason the players took criticism over the decision to disclaim interest was that they had the option to simply ignore the league’s threat of reverting to an earlier and worse proposal and return a proposal of their own based on the concessions they’ve made and ones they were demanding of the owners. That way if the owners then reverted back to the previous offer, the players could still decertify (or disclaim or de-unite de-evolve or whatever you want), but they would have provided the last offer. For this to be on the owners means the owners’ last proposal is still the last element in the negotiating process.
Pierce says a number of rather bizarre things in the interview. He talks about how he still thinks there will be a season in a couple of weeks, but he’s been the driving force behind legal movement which would undoubtedly scuttle a season. He says that he’s confident there will be a season, but he’s starting look at teams in Italy and Spain to join.
But the most confusing segment regarded decertification and his role in it (be sure to read the entire interview, it’s good to see a player speaking openly about this):
“A lot of players saw that and were frustrated just seeing that stuff at the top was going on. Then they started asking me what was going on. All I did was I had an opportunity to talk to a lawyer a lot about decertification. And then I offered it to the players who wanted to hear what the guy had to say. A lot of guys were interested in talking to the lawyer so we had a conference call with like 40-something guys where we went through the ins and outs of decertification, the positives and negatives.
“At that point, players got to make a decision whether to negotiate or decertify or do what we’re doing now [disbanding the union and filing an antitrust suit]. That’s pretty much what it was. … I don’t know if I was leading the charge. If I was, I’d probably have the [decertification] petitions in my hand. I just wanted the guys to get the information. There were a lot of guys who were really critical of decertifying because they didn’t believe that the NBA would negotiate a deal with us.”
Q: The union dissolved last Monday as the players decided to unanimously to file a “disclaimer of interest” and take their fight to court. Did you agree with that move?
Pierce: “I don’t know what the right move is. Billy and the lawyers have the expertise on that type of stuff. I don’t know if that’s the right move or [forced] decertification is the right move or sitting at the table is the right move. We weren’t getting nowhere at the negotiation table. The players felt like they were giving, giving, giving while the owners were taking all the concessions.
So you don’t know what the right move is, and you don’t have the petitions in your hand and you’re not leading the charge, but you organized the conference call and spoke with a lawyer.
It’s not that what he’s saying is necessarily double-speak, it just seems odd. It’s as if Pierce is playing it both ways. “I’m not behind decertification, I just did everything that someone pushing decertification would do and say.” And “I totally trust Billy and Derek, I just sought outside counsel and then brought that counsel to about 40 players on separate conference calls without consulting the union leadership.” In Pierce’s defense, given the way that Billy Hunter has run this thing, I’d probably cut him out of the loop as well. But it doesn’t change the fact that Pierce remains a lightning rod during this dispute and any deal that gets done is going to need his acceptance if not approval.