Fisher denies rift in NBA union leadership

Published 1:06 am Tuesday, November 1, 2011

The Associated Press

Derek Fisher denied a rift in union leadership in a letter to NBA players Monday, telling them there have been “no side agreements, no side negotiations or anything close” with league officials.

A story Saturday on titled “Is Fisher in Stern’s pocket?” said there was a disagreement between Fisher and players’ association executive director Billy Hunter and that the Lakers guard had promised NBA Commissioner David Stern that he could deliver a deal with a 50-50 split in basketball-related income.

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The story said Hunter confronted Fisher last Friday, the day talks with the league broke down and led to the cancellation of the entire November schedule.

“Usually I wouldn’t even dignify absurd media reports with a comment. But before these reports go any further, let me say on the record to each of you, my loyalty has and always will be with the players,” Fisher wrote in the letter, obtained by The Associated Press and other media outlets. “Anyone that questions that or doubts that does not know me, my history, and what I stand for.

“And quite frankly, how dare anyone call that into question. The Players Association is united and any reports to the contrary are false. There have been no side agreements, no side negotiations or anything close. We are united in serving you and presenting the best options and getting everyone back to work.”

Players and owners made progress on a number of issues related to the salary cap system over two days last week. But the negotiations fell apart again on the third day, when the sides decided to revisit the BRI split again.

Owners are insistent on a 50-50 split, while players have proposed reducing their guarantee from 57 percent down to 52.5, which they say would transfer more than $1.5 billion to owners over six years.

“My goal, the executive committee’s ONLY goal is to present you with the most fair deal possible,” Fisher wrote. “A deal that is both fair on system and BRI. One isn’t more important than the other. They are both extremely impactful to our business, our sport and our day to day life in the league.”

Fisher put the blame squarely on owners in the letter, telling players that “if nothing more, the league and owners should understand people’s livelihoods are at stake.”

“They should be able to take the over 1 billion dollars we’ve offered them and open the doors of their arenas and let us, along with the ushers, parking attendants, everyone impacted to get back to work,” Fisher added.

There have been no bargaining sessions since Friday, though Fisher told the players he would be in touch later in the week with an update.

Players will lose about $350 million with no games in November and more games could be lost without further concessions by the players, since the league has repeatedly said it won’t go beyond the 50-50 split.

The story identifies union leadership as a problem, saying: “This is fact: Fisher and Hunter haven’t been on the same page throughout this lockout.” It cites a veteran NBA player familiar with the negotiations who expressed concerns about Fisher’s allegiance.

“The attempt by ‘sources’ to divide us will be unsuccessful,” Fisher wrote. “We will continue to work every day to do right by you, the businesses that depend on our league and our fans.”