Paul Pierce: Players needed to make stand
Boston Celtics forward Paul Pierce(notes) spent Saturday morning leading more than 300 children in fitness exercises to kick off the “Million Hour Challenge,” an initiative that asks 2,000 children from Massachusetts to complete a million hours of physical activity over the next year.
“What we are trying to do with this program is to give a template for other players around the league so they can do it in their city and take it national,” said Pierce, who launched the “Truth on Health” campaign through his foundation to encourage children to lead healthier lives. “We have a lot of different pro athletes, not just basketball players, who are interested.”
By Saturday evening, Pierce was getting his own workout, playing in a charity game organized by teammate Rajon Rondo(notes). For now, that’s been the extent of competition for Pierce and his Boston Celtics with the NBA lockout lasting longer than 4½ months. And no one can be sure when it will end.
“I’m optimistic that we will have a season,” Pierce told Yahoo! Sports by phone Saturday. “People ask me that every day when I leave the house if we are going to have a season. I’ve been probably saying, ‘Hopefully in a couple weeks,’ the last two months. That’s how optimistic I am. I just feel like something is going to happen.
“There is going to be something that turns the light on for both sides and gets this thing going. I think there is too much at stake for both sides. The [popularity] that the game is building nationally and worldwide … it’s crazy that we are at this place right now.”
Pierce has taken an active role during the lockout, helping lead a conference call earlier this month with about 50 players to discuss the possibility of the Players Association decertifying. Pierce now says the call came as a result of reports that a rift had developed in the union leadership between executive director Billy Hunter and president Derek Fisher(notes). Pierce discussed the call and his other thoughts on the lockout in an interview with Yahoo! Sports.
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Question: How would you describe your role during the lockout and can you talk about the conference call on decertification?
Pierce: “A lot of players know I’ve been around 13 years and this is my second lockout. I got a lot of respect. I know what’s going on both for the league and the union. A lot of players have been calling me and asking me about decertification. … The agents were trying to push this for months. It came to a point with the whole fiasco with Derek and Billy. I didn’t know the ins and outs of that, nor did I ask [Fisher and Hunter] about that or even think that it was even true.
“A lot of players saw that and were frustrated just seeing that stuff at the top was going on. Then they started asking me what was going on. All I did was I had an opportunity to talk to a lawyer a lot about decertification. And then I offered it to the players who wanted to hear what the guy had to say. A lot of guys were interested in talking to the lawyer so we had a conference call with like 40-something guys where we went through the ins and outs of decertification, the positives and negatives.
“At that point, players got to make a decision whether to negotiate or decertify or do what we’re doing now [disbanding the union and filing an antitrust suit]. That’s pretty much what it was. … I don’t know if I was leading the charge. If I was, I’d probably have the [decertification] petitions in my hand. I just wanted the guys to get the information. There were a lot of guys who were really critical of decertifying because they didn’t believe that the NBA would negotiate a deal with us.”
Q: The union dissolved last Monday as the players decided to unanimously to file a “disclaimer of interest” and take their fight to court. Did you agree with that move?
Pierce: “I don’t know what the right move is. Billy and the lawyers have the expertise on that type of stuff. I don’t know if that’s the right move or [forced] decertification is the right move or sitting at the table is the right move. We weren’t getting nowhere at the negotiation table. The players felt like they were giving, giving, giving while the owners were taking all the concessions.
“I know that decertification is still a possibility. There is some stuff that myself and some other prominent players still talk about. But whatever we do, we’re still working on the same line with what’s going on with the lawsuit we filed. I don’t know how that goes into play now.”
Q: What do you think about the state of the lockout right now?
Pierce: “Everything is up in the air. Obviously, we couldn’t come to an agreement. We ended up deciding in the meetings to file a lawsuit. It’s unfortunate that both sides couldn’t come to an agreement. It’s sad, especially for players like me who don’t have too many more years. It’s a tough pill to swallow, but it’s a reality.”
Q: Do the players or owners have to take the next step to renew labor talks?
Pierce: “I think the owners have to take the step. We have taken a lot of steps. I think we have taken as many steps as we can take, which is why we are at where we are at. We feel like we’ve taken the most steps. That’s why we are going to court now.”
Q: It appears that the Celtics’ “Big Three” – yourself, Kevin Garnett(notes) and Ray Allen(notes) – have been the most vocal of any group of players on any team during the lockout. Garnett gave a speech to the players. Ray Allen has said he was “prepared to do what the Players Association needs me to do.” You have been vocal. Why is that?
Pierce: “We are the most vocal because we have three guys on our team that have been through the last lockout, and I don’t think you have another team like that. That’s probably why. We understand what we are going through a little bit more than a lot of other people.”
Pierce: “You got a lot of players that say, ‘Let’s take the deal.’ ‘Let’s take 51.’ ‘Let’s go 50-50.’ A lot of them don’t understand the issues. A lot of them are on the outside looking in. They kind of followed the negotiations on [television]. A lot of players didn’t understand the 50-50. Then you have a lot of players who weren’t in a lot of the meetings. They all flew out to New York, actually saw the deal [last Monday] and couldn’t believe it.
“I had guys going to the gym, saying, ‘I can’t believe how bad the deal was.’ Once guys went to the meeting and saw what it really was, they kind of backed off of it.”
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Q: Have you talked to Davis lately?
Pierce: “Yeah, I talked to Glen like three days ago. What I said to ‘Baby’ was [the basketball-related income split] is not the main issue. How the soft cap is determined is a major issue. A lot of it is system issues. The max number of deals. The midlevel exception. Those are the bigger issues. I know we need to come to a common ground on the 50-50 or whatever the deal is going to be on the [basketball-related income]. The thing that we argue the most over is the system issues. That’s what is holding us back.”
Q: After talking to Davis, do you think he has a different view of the lockout now?
Pierce: “It’s kind of hard for me speak for him because ‘Baby’ falls in the line of guys who are going to be affected in a major way – the free agents, the rookies coming in and players on the rookie scale now. And I can understand his frustration because he is saying, ‘I don’t have anything. I don’t even have a deal right now. Any deal would look good.’ A lot of guys are going to feel like that when they are put into a tight spot. What I want him to understand is it might not be the right deal for you today. So that’s what we are fighting for, the right deal for guys like you.”
Q: In fighting for the best deal, are you comfortable losing the season?
Pierce: “I’m never comfortable with losing a season. I’m a part of a group that is taking a stand for something. Regardless of about how 400 players feel, at the end of the day we have to go all in or nothing. Regardless of what we do, we have to stick together. There are probably not a lot of players feeling [good about] suing the NBA. But this is what’s going on, this is what has to take place and this is where we are. So the players have to swallow that pill and hope for the best.”
Q: Are you considering playing overseas during the lockout?
Pierce: “I’m actually starting to think so. I love the game so much. I’ve been just sitting here at home playing against the same guys in pickup every day. I’m a competitive player, and I love being on the court. If the NBA cancels the season I’m definitely looking at my options and considering going overseas.”
“Right now, I’m just looking at my options. I figure we are going to run out [of time around] Christmas if we are not even close yet. Well, maybe before Christmas. If around mid-December, if we are not even close, that’s probably a time where I’ll make some major decision.”
Q: Any specific country attracts you?
Pierce: “I’ve been to Spain and Italy, so I would look at those two. They have pretty much the best league.”
Q: If there is a shortened NBA season, could that help an older team like the Celtics?
Pierce: “Knowing the guys, I don’t have any worries about Ray, Kevin, myself and [Rajon] Rondo – he has been pretty active. We have a lot to do. We only have like six guys under contract. But a shortened season would be to our advantage. We were probably the best team in the league the first 60 games the last couple of years.”
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