BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. - JaVale McGee only acknowledged the inevitable Friday when the Washington Wizards center said a few NBA players are “ready to fold” in their contentious labor negotiations with the league.
McGee and union president Derek Fisher both believe far more players are sticking together and staying strong as they head into a crucial week for the league’s future.
And whatever Commissioner David Stern’s gut is telling him about next week’s meeting with a federal mediator, Fisher remains confident they can make a deal to save the season.
“My gut tells me that there’s no way Commissioner Stern and the NBA would damage their business by making us miss a whole season,” Fisher said Friday after a union meeting at the Beverly Hilton.
While Stern made another round of radio interviews postulating doom if a deal isn’t reached quickly, Fisher and union executive director Billy Hunter briefed a group of roughly 30 players in Beverly Hills on the state of negotiations.
McGee left the meeting early, but made the biggest headlines at the valet stand when he described frank conversations among the players.
“There’s definitely some guys in there saying that they’re ready to fold, but ... the majority of guys are willing to stand strong,” McGee said.
In a tweet, McGee later denied he said the words recorded by more than a dozen reporters. Fisher and the players who didn’t leave early laughed off the brouhaha.
“The person that spent the least amount of time in the room has no ability to make that statement,” Fisher said.
Still, the union’s collective will is about to be tested by Stern and his owners, who already canceled the first two weeks of the regular season. Stern also said he believes there won’t be basketball on Christmas, traditionally the league’s biggest regular-season day, if a deal isn’t reached next week.
“That’s an arbitrary deadline just to throw out on Commissioner Stern’s part,” Fisher said. “We don’t see it that way. That’s just arbitrary, with no other purpose than to sway player sentiment.”
Stern continued his radio blitz to disseminate a message undoubtedly directed more to his players than NBA fans, saying more cancellations could be announced next week if the sides can’t reach a deal before two days of owners meetings begin Wednesday.
Stern also continues to push his insistence that the first mention of a 50-50 split came from the union, though it was players who ultimately rejected the concept.
Hunter reacted rather angrily to Stern’s declaration that the union’s deal will only get worse if a solution isn’t found quickly.
“It can only get worse for both sides,” Hunter said, noting the huge amounts of revenue lost without games. “If somebody is pointing a gun at my head, I’m going to point one back at him. ... Teams are going to lose money. The pain is mutual.”
Fisher and Hunter said the players’ positions on every issue have included enormous concessions, but they don’t see similar accommodations by the league. The union doesn’t like the owners’ idea to replace their hard salary cap plan with a punitive luxury tax, believing it would evolve into an effective hard cap.
The sides also haven’t figured out how to divide up $4 billion in annual basketball-related income. Players have proposed lowering their guaranteed cut from 57 percent to 53 percent, while owners are seeking 53 percent of revenue for themselves.
Heat guard Dwyane Wade told The Associated Press on Friday he thinks some people may be overstating the importance of BRI - the money made through basketball operations such as ticket sales, TV rights, concessions and souvenirs.
“Everyone talks about this BRI number as it being the end-all, but it’s not,” Wade said. “This is the beginning. There’s so many other issues. But talking about that one issue, people have to remember us as players came off 57. We came off a deal that the owners at the time thought was a great number. So we came from 57 and we felt by moving to 53 we’ve done a pretty good job of starting to help the league do what they want to do.”
AP basketball writer Brian Mahoney in New York and AP sportswriter Tim Reynolds in Bradenton, Fla., contributed to this report.