Derek Fisher, Billy Hunter

NBA players taking tactic out of John F. Kennedy’s arsenal


Time for a little history: During the Cuban missile crisis, Russia and the United States were working on a back-channels deal that was essentially the Russians take their missiles out of Cuba and the United States would end its blockade and not invade the island nation. Then as that deal got close a letter from Russian premier Nikita Khrushchev was published in the American press saying that part of the deal had to be the USA pulling its missiles out of Turkey (less than 200 miles from Russia).

President John F. Kennedy’s response? He ignored that added demand. He telegraphed Khrushchev and said the United States would end the blockade and not invade the island if the missiles were removed, otherwise it was war. Khrushchev took the offer.

That is essentially the tactic the NBA players’ union has taken in dealing with an ultimatum from David Stern (something pointed out by our own Matt Moore). It’s a classic negotiating strategy. Union president Derek Fisher said his side stands ready to keep negotiating from where the talks are now, close to a deal. Basically he said, “We’re not playing your game of deadlines and rollbacks.” The union will ignore that.

“Our options are to keep doing what we are doing,” said union executive director Billy Hunter, adding the union would keep negotiating off what the union has proposed, not whatever the league puts on the table.

Union leaders suggested they would be willing to give the owners the split of BRI they want if the owners would give up a series of system issues. If the sides keep talking.

This puts Stern on the spot because now, to save face and meet the demand of his hardliners, he has to roll back the offer (unless there are ongoing negotiations Wednesday, as the players said they would try to set up). But the deal is close to where the two sides are now. If Stern and the owners really stick to what is reportedly in the new offer — salary rollbacks, a hard salary cap, a smaller percentage of revenue to the players and more — you can forget about basketball this season at all.

It’s a huge threat by Stern and the owners.

One the players have chosen to just ignore. It worked for JFK. Although, a few months after the crisis ended President Kennedy did take the missiles out of Turkey, so maybe it worked out for Russia, after all.

NBA players reject Stern’s ultimatum, want more negotiations

NBPA Representatives Meet To Discuss NBA Lockout

The NBA players have made their position clear — they are not taking your deal, David Stern. They reject your ultimatum. They want to keep negotiating, but need more system changes to make a deal.

And don’t expect that deal before Stern’s deadline of end of business Wednesday. After which he said the owners would pull this offer off the table and put back on it things like salary rollbacks, a smaller revenue share to players and a hard salary cap — all things the union will not accept.

The players are essentially going to ignore Stern’s deadline and threats and keep on negotiating. They did say they would reach out to the league and try to set up another round of negotiations in the next day or so.

There were 43 players in a three-hour meeting in New York and they came out speaking of unity in being opposed to what the owners have offered.

“Our orders are clear right now, the current offer that is on the table from the NBA is not one we are able to accept…” Fisher said in a press conference broadcast on NBA TV Tuesday. “We’re open-minded about potential compromises on our (basketball related income) number, but there are things in the system that we have to have.”

Fisher and Hunter said it is more about system issues, things like the mid-level exception, sign-and-trade for tax payers and the luxury tax itself rather than just the split of revenue. The players feel like they gave up a lot of money in BRI and with that should have bought a system closer to what exists in the league now. The owners want the money and the system changes that would rein in big spending teams. The owners call it “competitive balance” but it is really about controlling salaries.

Hunter and Fisher both said there was little talk of decertification of the union, something agents and some players have pushed for as a way to give the players some leverage (though anti-trust lawsuits against the league). Hunter said decertification is not worthwhile right now.

Players said there was an aggressive tone in the room, that they were not going to back down. And there was talk of Michael Jordan, the owner who has become the poster child of the league hardliners.

“I would give him the advice he gave Abe Pollin,” Hunter said, referring to Jodan’s comment in 1999 that the Wizards owner should sell his team if he couldn’t turn a profit.

If the owners really stick by their guns now on the rollback on the offer you can kiss Christmas Day games goodbye for sure, and maybe the entire season. It looks like things will get uglier before they get better.

Derek Fisher is unpaid for most thankless job in NBA

Derek Fisher, Spencer Hawes, Maurice Evans

Derek Fisher can’t win right now.

On one side he has teammates (Kobe Bryant and Steve Blake) pretty much ready to take the owners’ last offer and get back on the court. On the other, he has hardline players (Paul Pierce is your ring leader) and agents incensed the union has given up as much as it has already to get near a deal. The hardliners are talking decertification — blowing the union up and getting Fisher out of the game.

Fisher is caught in the middle, and often caught away from his family for extended periods now. His home is in Los Angeles, but lately it has felt more like his home is a hotel room in New York.

And it’s all unpaid. Not a buck. Something Kevin Ding lays out in a fantastic feature in the Orange Country Register (if you click one link and read something today, make it this).

He is not getting paid anything for this. He digs into his own pocket even for meals while holed up in New York for bargaining meetings – sometimes packing for what was supposed to be a couple days and then having to agree to stay for a week or a week and a half. He pays for personal assistants to fly and stay and help him in New York, including a trainer to keep him on track physically to continue his old job as a basketball player at some point.

He tries to justify the expenses to his wife, in addition to his glaring absence at home at the usual offseason time when he gets to reconnect with his kids. Staying committed to serve his fellow players at this critical time, Fisher is left to steal away from New York and back to Los Angeles just to see his kid’s soccer game and then jet back on a red-eye flight.

Working out has at least remained the primary release for Fisher, but even that can get complicated. At 37, Fisher was taking it to Ricky Rubio, 21, last week in a pickup game in Los Angeles and enjoying doing so… but soon enough Fisher was off in the corner of the gym, on his phone, dealing with union business again.

We’re not asking you to shed a tear for Fisher, who has made $57.8 million in salary over the course of his career and is owed $6.8 million more over the next two seasons (minus missed checks because of the lockout).

But the man took on this job and stepped forward to lead the union through this crisis. Not Pierce, not Kevin Garnett, not Dwyane Wade of Blake or Kevin Martin. They are all hecklers from the sidelines. Fisher is out on the court playing every day.

Fisher’s strength is a confidence that doesn’t have him shrinking in the big moments. There is a reason Kobe trust’s Fisher like no other. That confidence is serving Fisher well right now. And as Ding points out:

If Fisher were not involved and it was just Billy Hunter and union lawyer Jeffrey Kessler vs. David Stern, do you think they would be anywhere close to a deal right now? Not likely. This would be a much, much more ugly. The players and fans need Fisher’s level head in there to have any chance of having a 2011-12 season.

David Stern: “We are going to make a deal”

David Stern, Adam Silver

NBA Commissioner is back on his media tour bus… in a metaphorical sense. Stern wouldn’t actually get on a bus. But he is doing a lot of media interviews right now as he spins his side of the ugly lockout story and essentially tries to talk to the players directly about taking the deal on the table.

What he said to Stephen A. Smith of ESPNNewYork when asked about losing the season was interesting, however (via Sports Radio Interviews).

“I refuse to contemplate it or discuss because we are going to make a deal. (Host: So you’re confident?) Unlike any other deal, if I don’t bid enough for your house you don’t have to sell it to me. Or if you ask too much I don’t have to buy it. Our players, there’s going to be a deal. The only question is how much damage is done to the game and our fans and the people who work in our industry before we make that deal.”

He’s right, there will be a deal someday. It’s vintage Stern in that it’s a great quote and headline, but it’s meaning is vague. Besides, to make a deal would require the two sides actually sitting down and meeting, and as of this writing no talks are scheduled.

Stern also talked about the pressure from hardline owners who thought he has already given up too much. Those owners may not make up a majority, but they make up a significant enough minority that Stern has to keep them happy. And, Stern is happy to use them as leverage against the union as well (“take this nice deal I’m offering you or I will have to release the hounds”).

I still think the biggest goal in all of the media stops is to talk over the heads of Billy Hunter, Derek Fisher and the union leadership to pressure the rank and file players on taking the deal. To try and force a groundswell of players willing to take the deal that the union can’t ignore.

He’s smart, that Stern.

That said, nobody is making a deal if they don’t sit down together and have a meeting.

David Stern’s pitch to players through ESPN

NBA Labor Basketball

In case you missed it — because you have a life and might have better things to do than follow the minutia of the NBA lockout as it flies into the abyss — we wanted you to read what David Stern was selling Monday afternoon.

He went on ESPN for an interview, but really this was a straight-out pitch to the NBA’s rank-and-file players. The ones thinking about pushing for a vote on the last deal the owners put out there. It’s not the first time during the lockout he has tried to talk over the head of the union to the players directly.

Here is what he said. You may choose to interpret his words differently than I.

“I don’t think (the union starting to decertify) would effect (negotiations) particularly much. The reality is that decertification route, or something like it, was tried by the NFL players and the Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit soundly rejected the attempt. So I don’t know what they are thinking….

“The important thing for them time-wise is to focus on our current proposal, which adopts five of the six recommendations as our own, but they were made by the President Obama appointed head of the federal mediation service. And it’s really a 50/50 split with an upside for the players if our projections are exceeded, which keeps guaranteed contracts, which has no rollbacks, and keeps mid-level exceptions at $5 million so that teams over the cap, they can still enter into contracts with players.

“We think that there’s a great offer on the table and what we told the players is it’s getting late, the only rational thing to do is for us to make that deal because given what’s going on in our business and our industry, it’ll get worse from there….

“(The owners) are unified in their willingness to make this deal through Wednesday. And then they will be unified in their willingness to negotiate only over the 47 percent proposal that goes on to the table Wednesday at the close of business.”