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Fran Blinebury

Players still show they're united and far from splintering


Posted Oct 14 2011 10:07PM - Updated Oct 15 2011 7:35PM

BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. -- Well, once Charles Barkley claimed that he was misquoted in his own autobiography, anything was possible.

So here came Washington Wizards big man JaVale McGee, about 30 minutes after addressing the media outside the National Basketball Players Association meeting, tweeting that he never said "there's definitely some guys in there saying that they're ready to fold."

Except, of course, there was tape. And digital voice recordings. And iPhone video cameras. And all of the other trappings of the 21st century.

Which left union president Derek Fisher to sweep up the mess a short time later.

"Let me say this: The person that spent the least amount of time in the room can't make that statement," Fisher said following the meeting that lasted more than three hours. "He's in no position to make that statement on behalf of the group. Obviously in negotiations of this magnitude we're gonna have guys with differing opinions, because we have guys in different positions.

"We have guys who are free agents this summer...We have veterans...We have guys who have just gotten drafted...Within all that, you're gonna have differing thoughts and opinions about what should be going on."

What could have, at first glance, been seen as a crack in the wall of solidarity on the players' side of the labor dispute might actually be more a testament to the ability of Fisher, vice president Maurice Evans and executive director Billy Hunter to keep their union members on point and marching forward together.

For if Twitter is the social media's version of truth serum -- everyone able to vent every gripe and spleen in 140 characters -- then the truth is there has been virtually no disharmony coming from the players' camp. Each day usually brings simply more talk of barnstorming, basketball and brotherhood.

While NBA commissioner David Stern can use the threat of his heavy hammer to keep 30 owners and each member of every franchise in line -- remember, he fined Michael Jordan $100,000 -- the NBPA has no such authority.

"We don't have that ability to do so," Fisher said, grinning. "No. I don't want it."

Thus, Stern is the voice single-handedly delivering the owners' message through assorted media outlets, constantly presenting the union with the challenge of responding and keeping up. In advance of the two sides huddling with federal mediator George Cohen in New York on Tuesday, Stern has said that if a deal is not struck then, there is a possibility that the NBA will not be playing by Christmas Day.

"That's an arbritary deadline just to throw out on commissioner Stern's point," Fisher said. "We don't see it that way. Obviously, he's entitled to make a statement. But it seems arbitrary with no real purpose than just to sway sentiment.

"I don't agree with that way it's been done, but I'm not him so I can't speak to that part of it. For our players, we've made a pledge not to...allow what is said or written or printed in the media to frustrate us or sway us in any way not to think as business men.

"We'll continue to try to see if we can strike a deal that saves our season. Ultimately the season being saved is not a decision that is one-sided. It largely rests in the commissioner's hands and the NBA's hands. If they're ready and willing to make a deal the way he's implied in some of his statements, then we're ready to do so."

This latest union meeting was attended by roughly 30 players, a number that did not alarm Fisher, because he said it was just one of more than a handful that have been held in various parts of the country to keep the membership informed. When the meeting concluded, more than 25 players stood literally shoulder-to-shoulder behind Fisher, Evans and Hunter and nodded in agreement that they are far from splintering.

"We all want to get back onto the court and play," said Cleveland Cavaliers guard Baron Davis. "But we want to do it under conditions that we think are acceptable. I think we've shown that we're willing to make sacrifices already."

With the first two weeks of the regular season already canceled and likelihood of losing more games and revenue looming, the general consensus is that any offers made by the owners will only cost the players more money.

"I think it can only get worse for both of us," Hunter said. "If somebody's pointing a gun at my head, I'm gonna point one back at him. That door doesn't swing one way. It's not just the players that are going to suffer if there are games lost.

"What he [Stern] has failed to reveal to you is the amount of economic damage they're gonna suffer as a consequence. He points out that the players are going to lose $170 million every two weeks. The owners will lose a similar amount coupled with any damage their franchise will sustain as a consequence. So the pain is mutual. If you're gonna inflict pain on the players, then they're gonna have some pain inflicted as well. That's what they've got to think about.

"They've got to be concerned that in the face of a protracted lockout there will be some franchises that won't make it. If things are as dire as he says it is, then he better be concerned about that."

What Fisher said he's not concerned about is any wavering of commitment from the large majority of the nearly 450 players in the union, an occasional tweet notwithstanding.

"At end of the day, there hasn't been anything that has become unclear about where our guys stand," he said. "That is with and us behind us, even if there are differing opinions at times, because that's what happens in business. We are still together."

Fran Blinebury has covered the NBA since 1977. You can e-mail him here and follow him on twitter.

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