The president of the National Basketball Players Association was asked his impressions of NBA Commissioner David Stern's state-of-the-league address during All-Star Weekend last month. It was then that Stern revealed how much money the NBA is projected to lose this season in a tough economy, and said the "level of revenue devoted to players' salaries (is) too high'' in the NBA's current collective bargaining agreement.
"I think the discussion also is about, 'Are things just related to the economy,''' Fisher, a Lakers guard, said in an interview with FanHouse. "What other variables go into why teams are losing money? That's the conversations that we (the union) want to have.
"Let's discuss all of the reasons why (teams are losing money). Some of it is you have some teams in bad arena (situations) that are in tough markets. You have situations where teams aren't as competitive where you know that's going to impact the fan base. You have another batch of teams this year that have dumped guys to clear salary-cap room for the summer, and that's not something that's necessarily going to raise fan support or increase season-ticket sales for next year. ... We don't necessarily agree the only fix is impacting players' salaries.''
Fisher said the union is cognizant about the impact of the sagging economy and of there being a perception NBA players are overpaid. But he said it's the owners who have made decisions about handing out lucrative contracts.
"I guess all of our salaries are too high in a relative sense of what hard-working Americans or people around the world and what their income is,'' Fisher said. "We're not insensitive to that reality. At the same time, we feel like this system is as well as systems in the past. ... There isn't any reason why, if a team doesn't want to pay guys five- or six-year contracts, they don't have to.
"When league revenues go down, player salaries go down. The league already is reporting a salary-cap number that is lower next year than it is this year. That will impact players' salaries. ... Each time we have gone around the block with (NBA owners) with a collective bargaining agreement, that one has always not been good enough four or five years later. ... We do feel there is much more conversation to have than just player salaries are way out of control.''
The union and the owners had what union executive director Billy Hunter called a "contentious'' bargaining session Feb. 12 during All-Star Weekend in Dallas. Afterward, the union had a press conference in which the initial proposal by the owners, designed to drastically cut player salaries, was called unacceptable.
Often, Hunter has shared the podium at the state-of-the-league address with Stern. But Fisher said Hunter opted not to last month because the union wanted to get out its own opinion and was "opposed to joining with commissioner Stern and painting a picture that maybe he wanted painted.''
Fisher watched much of Stern's address on a television monitor. He shrugged off Stern saying that, with the owners' initial proposal, the union "can denounce it, tear it up ... burn it ... jump up and down on it, as long as you understand that it affects the financial realities.''
"It was clear when we left the room, we're not using (the owners' proposal) to get this conversation started,'' said Fisher of the proposal in which Hunter said NBA owners wanted to eliminate the mid-level exception, scale back guaranteed contracts, reduce the length of deals and significantly cut basketball-related income from the 57-percent cut players now get.
Stern did bring up at his session something the union did not. He said a union lawyer "was brought in to threaten us as a tactic to say ... the union is going to go away.''
Fisher identifying the lawyer as Jeffrey Kessler, called that a standard negotiating tactic.
"That's not uncommon in those type of sessions,'' Fisher said of Kessler's threatening to dissolve the union. "That wasn't the plan going in to create fear. ... (That) was just something that Jeffrey felt that he wanted to say. He's a very experienced attorney. ... I don't think it was as a scare tactic. It was a much as to express to us what the potential realities are.''
The realities now are NBA owners and players remain at a stalemate. The union said during All-Star Weekend it would come back with a proposal of its own, but Fisher did not say anything is close.
Chris Tomasson can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @christomasson