NBA Players, Owners Set Tone for Negotiations in All-Star Weekend Meeting
It was as basic as gatherings go, with both sides speaking in generalities and basic philosophies about how and why their sides and their stances should be understood. There were, by numerous first-hand accounts, very few details discussed and no issues resolved as the clock continues to tick toward the June 30 expiration and the extended lockout that is expected to follow.
But the very reasons that the meeting was considered a step forward by all involved said everything about the sad state of affairs going in. There was no rhetoric, no contentious tones, no hyper focus on the respective agendas.
With the 15 All-Stars on hand (25 players in all) joined by most of the league's owners in the Beverly Hills meeting that lasted approximately two hours, there was finally the acknowledgment that both sides must be willing to discuss their disagreements no matter how vehement they might be. And that, believe it or not, marked a significant step forward in setting the tone for these crucial discussions.
While NBA commissioner David Stern was not available for comment, National Basketball Player's Association executive director Billy Hunter said the credit for setting that tone belonged to Lakers guard and union president Derek Fisher.
He opened the session with a big-picture speech about the situation, seemingly touching on the right notes in a way that took the acrimony out of the room from the start.
"Derek Fisher did an awesome job in opening, and relaying stories and anecdotes to try and help the owners see where we're coming from," Atlanta guard and executive vice president of the NBPA Maurice Evans told FanHouse by phone. "I think that was transparent and they received that message well, and we received the message as well.
"It set the tone for the meeting, and everybody went from there. When someone comes out who's genuine, and they're receptive, it's good. No one could be negative after that."
To deem the situation positive, however, would be nothing short of disingenuous. The owners have still not responded to the players' proposal submitted at All-Star weekend in Dallas a year ago. What's more, this was a meeting for which they practically had to beg.
Evans told FanHouse on Jan. 19 that the owners would not agree to meet, accusing them of being afraid to discuss the matter with the game's biggest names. Stern and the owners, according to Hunter, didn't want the labor situation to steal the spotlight from the weekend's events like it did last time around.
In that sense, this was a win for the players more than anyone. They had their chance for symbolism, putting on a unified front and sending the sort of message that had been lacking.
The education will continue, too. According to league sources, the NBPA is holding two separate meetings with player agents and "advisers" on Saturday in Los Angeles to bring them up to speed on all of the issues and help them serve as an informational bridge to the players. Hunter said he expects the two sides to begin meeting more frequently in the coming weeks.
"I think they (the owners) felt a lot better leaving it than they did coming in," Hunter said. "Everybody now realizes that time is of the essence, especially if we want to avoid a lockout. We don't want one, and we've indicated all willingness to negotiate to avoid one."
Added Evans: "It was just nice to see new faces, nice to see a lot of people raising concerns, more All-Stars there. ... They (the owners) had full representation. To see (Charlotte owner) Michael Jordan, to see (Dallas owner) Mark Cuban, different people coming in and trying to offer their opinions and thoughts was good.
"We haven't really even began to talk about the issues. We basically began negotiations, finally opened it up to set the stage and take it that way."