November 15, 2011
On Monday afternoon, National Basketball Players Association (NBPA) president Derek Fisher(notes) said that the NBPA's decisions to both reject the NBA's revised proposal for a new collective bargaining agreement and dissolve the union in pursuit of an antitrust lawsuit against the league were "unanimous." Fisher's claim prompted many observers, including Brian Mahoney of The Associated Press, to suggest that "there were surely players throughout the league who would have preferred union leadership put the proposal to a vote of the full membership, with many ready to go back to work."
While relatively few players have publicly aired such sentiments, Cleveland Cavaliers forward Samardo Samuels(notes) (left) and free-agent forward Glen Davis(notes) (late of the Boston Celtics) both vented their frustrations with how events unfolded Monday to friendly neighborhood beat reporters. (I am sure their disclosures thrilled Fisher, the Los Angeles Lakers guard who told reporters in New York on Monday that members of the newly re-christened National Basketball Trade Association would be declining comment on labor dealings from here on out. Oh, well.)
First up, Samuels' Monday morning comments to Jason Lloyd of the Akron Beacon Journal, which included the admission that he would have voted to accept the deal being offered by the owners, had he only been given a chance to vote on it:
"A lot of people in the league are panicking," Samuels said. "You're talking about missing paychecks. Those paychecks you're missing are going to add up and guys have families and responsibilities and bills to pay. I'm just a guy that's coming out of college. I'm 22 years old, I don't have much responsibility." [...]
Some of the league's stars, such as Boston Celtics forward Paul Pierce(notes), have led the charge in recent days to disband the union, irking some of the younger players like Samuels. "It's easy for Paul Pierce to say that. You've been in the league how long?" Samuels said. "You've got a decent amount of money saved up, but what about the guys just coming into the league who don't have [anything] saved up?"
For the record, Pierce, 34, has been in the league for 13 years and has earned $137,362,539 in salary, according to Basketball-Reference.com. The 22-year-old Samuels, on the other hand, entered the league in August 2010, when he signed a three-year, minimum-salary deal with the Cavs as an undrafted free agent out of Louisville. Only $200,000 of Samuels' $500,000 first-year salary was guaranteed, according to the ShamSports.com salaries database, and the final two years were fully unguaranteed.
For his part, Davis says he's not among the latter group Samuels referenced, telling Mark Murphy of the Boston Herald that he is "financially stable — I'm not hurting at all. I prepared myself well for this lockout."
But that doesn't mean "Big Baby" is happy with being "left out of the loop" by union leadership in the run-up to Monday's decision:
"Hopefully the union just made that decision for every player in the league, and not just 30," [Davis] said. "Are they making that decision for the rest of us? Or are they just making that decision for the Kobes of this league — guys who have made a lot of money already."
Davis also echoed Samuels' point on decision-making powers being invested in the hands of more established players who might look at the world a little differently than a four-year veteran about to enter free agency would:
"It's not just Paul making that decision. It's also Derek [Fisher] and Billy Hunter. I talk to players, but my friends are guys like Paul and [Kevin Garnett(notes)] — guys who are in a different stage of their careers from me."
To top things off, Davis chastised negotiators for letting bravado get in the way of common-sense dealing ("I hope they realize that by throwing their chests out at each other, they're not going to get this deal done") and for turning labor talks into "a pissing contest," which is a sentiment that I think everyone can get behind, because that's gross.
As my colleague Eric Freeman wrote Monday, not only was the NBPA under no obligation to bring the league's proposal to its full membership for a popular vote, but doing so would have flown in the face of established practices employed by every union in the country. This is why each team chooses a player representative.
While the "seniority sucks unless you're senior" concerns about representatives' voting motives raised by Samuels and Davis make sense in theory, it would stand to reason that the Pierces, Kobe Bryants and Kevin Garnetts of the world — ultra-competitive guys nearing the end of careers that have lasted more than a dozen years, and who might only have another year or two of high-quality basketball left in their bodies — were really voting based on self-interest, they would press to get back on the court as quickly as possible to compete for titles, round out Hall of Fame resumes and stack as much paper as they can.
Plus, a quick look at the roster of player representatives to the now-dissolved union shows that Pierce is very much the exception to the NBPA rule; you're much more likely to see names of mid-level-caliber players and relative youngsters in union meetings than superstars on eight-figures-per-year deals. (Of course, you could argue that a squad of reps fearful of an economic restructuring likely to have a more significant impact on mid-level types than any other class of player could wind up being the most obstinate possible crew to send into negotiations, but that's not what Samuels and Davis are arguing.)
Unfortunately for Samuels and Davis, their sour-grapes gripes — while certainly understandable, because it sucks to show up to a party and find out that the keg's kicked and there's no more chips — can't really amount to much right now. The players' case is likely headed to the courts, their cause is now being led by attorneys David Boies and Jeffrey Kessler rather than Fisher and Billy Hunter, and even if they'd like to effect a change in union leadership, there isn't even a union at the moment. They're stuck, just like they were Monday and just like the rest of us. But at least they got something off their chests. Hope they feel better; that'd make two of us, at least.