Charity game a lockout fallout
Pierce enjoys showcase, but he wants resolution
The crowd at Lavietes Pavilion behaved as if last night would be the final opportunity to watch NBA players in an organized game for months, perhaps even a year.
There is an extreme level of uncertainty and pessimism as the NBA nears the beginning of what appears to be an unavoidable abyss. The battle between the league and the players has now moved into the courtrooms, negotiation replaced by litigation.
Meanwhile, the 12 players who participated in the Boston Charity Classic can only showcase their skills in these types of freestyle, meaningless games that only serve as a tantalizer.
Paul Pierce made his grand entrance with 4:27 left in the first quarter, obviously enjoying the cool, sunny afternoon in Boston. Pierce expressed angst about returning to play, calling Boston “my home’’ as he made an appearance in Dorchester yesterday morning to support a children’s fitness program.
Pierce displayed his fun-loving nature for the fans at Harvard, but that is a deceiving characteristic. He has been involved in the labor negotiations and a proponent of pursuing decertification, something the National Basketball Players Association viewed as a last resort until recently.
With his bright smile, Pierce downplayed his influence on the decertification effort. Many players and agents are angry at the owners’ take-it-or-leave-it stance that was exemplified when commissioner David Stern announced the league’s last offer, a proposal that was soundly rejected.
Pierce did organize two conference calls to explain the process to his brethren. And the NBPA responded last Monday by filing a “disclaimer of interest’’ - a faster and neater method of forcing the owners to tone down their inflexible approach.
“I never told nobody to decertify,’’ Pierce said. “That’s not something I was [doing]. A lot of players around the league have respect for me and they call me in the summer because they know I’ve got an understanding of what’s going on with the negotiations and a lot of players asked me about decertification. And all I did was bring the information to them. I didn’t push it one way or another.’’
Although the NBPA preached unity and solidarity during its quest to procure a favorable collective bargaining agreement, the players, especially the rank-and-file, are even more helpless now that they are independent contractors. There is no longer a union, no longer a leader. Derek Fisher has relinquished his duties as union president, while Billy Hunter has transformed his title from executive director to lawyer on the players’ legal team.
Taking it to the courtroom makes it even more difficult to strike an agreement, but Pierce said he is growing impatient.
“Right now I want to get a deal,’’ said Pierce, who turned 34 last month. “I don’t have too many years left. But we want the right deal, that’s the most important thing. We don’t feel [the current 50-50 offer] is a fair deal. If we did, we would have signed it.’’
The NBPA failed its constituents in terms of communication and information. And many younger players reached out to Pierce, one of the handful of veterans remaining who endured the 1998 lockout. Pierce was a Celtics rookie then, but said he worked out with Indiana’s Jalen Rose, who took him to labor meetings.
Pierce was present when Charles Oakley slapped Charles Barkley during a meeting. Thirteen years later, he said he has decided to embrace the mentor role.
“It was like they wanted to know so we got a conference call with a lot of the guys that was interested in it, talked to a lawyer about the ins and outs about it, and that was pretty much it,’’ he said. “At the end of the day, it isn’t Paul Pierce saying this is what the guys are going to do. I’m only one vote. It’s got to be decided by everybody.’’
The unintended losers of this lockout are the fans. Pierce was cheered when he strolled onto the bench and sat next to Mayor Thomas Menino, who was the unofficial coach of the White team. Pierce uttered no combative words last night. He wants to play.
“I’m very disappointed. I should be playing today,’’ Pierce said. “Who’s on the schedule? I think there’s disappointment on both sides. I was in here in ’98, who knows how many records I would have broken if I hadn’t gone through two lockouts?’’
When Pierce talked with the kids in Dorchester, many asked when the Celtics would play their first game. They don’t understand the lockout. And in many ways, neither do many of the players who are missing games and salaries. The confusion is at its peak.
“It’s hard when you see the fans and you go out in the community and they ask you what’s going on and you can’t really give them an answer,’’ he said. “It’s like a stalemate and I feel bad because these are people that are really our big fans who really enjoy watching us play. We’re depriving a lot of people. I hope it doesn’t go through full litigation but that’s the route the players have chosen and I am sticking with that route.’’
Gary Washburn can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.