By A. Sherrod Blakely
CSNNE.com Celtics Insider
LAS VEGAS NBA players from all over the economic stratosphere, from rookies yet to receive their first NBA check to former All-Stars like Jermaine O'Neal, were flocked behind Derek Fisher, Billy Hunter and other members of the NBA players association's executive board.
Fisher, the NBAPA's president had a simple message following the three-plus hour meeting among the union and its members.
But the image behind Fisher - NBA players, shoulder to shoulder, all donning the same gray t-shirts with the word 'Stand' in the center - said it all.
"At the end of the day, we come out of our meeting continuing to be unified and as together as we've been throughout this process," Fisher said. "We continue to express our desire to negotiate, to get a fair deal; one that is fair to all our players, not just our star players . . . that's who we're standing for. We'll continue to take that stand until our team owners are in a position where they want to come to the table and get a fair deal done.
"We haven't pretended to walk into the room during negotiations and have expectations or entitlement to anything other than what's fair to the body of players that make up the game of professional basketball."
Having the image of a strong, united front was clearly the thrust of what the union hoped to accomplish.
Moves in that direction were on the radar screen prior to Thursday's meeting, which included about 30 NBA players.
Prior to the meeting, Fisher sent an e-mail to the NBAPA's membership, which was to "best update you personally as to where the leadership of the National Basketball Players Association stands, where the negotiations stand where we are headed and the reasons why."
In the letter, which was obtained by SI.com, Fisher made a point to reiterate that he and the union's executive committee "will not agree to an unfair deal on behalf of you and our players. Period."
Maurice Evans, vice president of the NBAPA, told CSNNE.com that the biggest issue impacting the union and its members is misinformation coming from a variety of sources.
"We were able to really bring calmness and clarity to their situation," he said. "I don't think we'll have too many problems moving forward."
Evans has heard much of the talk recently that a handful of agents are pushing for the league to de-certify, which some believe just might be what the union needs to do in order to get progress towards a new CBA with the owners.
"That was a significant portion of the meeting, getting them players to understand their rights and their power," Evans said. "And just educating these guys on how to grow as a man, represent yourself and your family and to work alongside your agent, work together with your agent."
Evans understands the bond that players have with their agents.
But that bond, he said, needs to be put in perspective.
"Just trying to show players where they stand, and how the agents in some instances can be a great help, as some are, but some can be a detriment," he said.
Inside the meeting, Evans said the players were also presented with questions to get them to better understand the nature of their relationship with the union and their respective agents.
"We engaged them, we enlightened them and we asked them questions," Evans said. "'Who do you come to when you have arbitration or an issue with your agent? Who resolves that issue? In extreme and general situations, we were able to ask these guys questions . . . and it gave them their answers."
Driving the united front home even more was the presence of DeMaurice Smith, executive director of the NFL players association.
Smith was invited to the meeting by Fisher.
"The one point that Smith made, was in regards to decertification, it's not the silver bullet," said Billy Hunter, the executive director of the NBA players' association. "The real key to all of this is player solidarity. Our players are united; they're with us. They understand the position we've adopted. We've kept them fully informed. Any decisions made will be made by the group of players behind us as well as their colleagues."
Hunter and the players union filed a lawsuit against the NBA with the National Labor Relations Board, which he hopes to have a ruling on within the next three weeks.
If the NLRB rules in favor of the union, they could rule that the lockout is illegal and thus, bring it to an end.
But until that option is exhausted, don't anticipate the union will give any serious thoughts about decertifying.
The players will try and carry themselves akin to the grey t-shirts they adorned which had players, side-by-side, with the word 'Stand' in front of them.
"The one thing that does come out of this meeting, we've kind of dispelled the notion that the players were not together; that they were not in support of the union," Hunter said. "So if the owners were looking for some division or break in the ranks, that it might weaken our resolve, I think that's been put to bed."