HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — No offense to Billy Hunter or Derek Fisher, the two men who have been the public faces of the players’ side of the NBA lockout for months now.
But Paul Pierce is the man most of us have wanted to hear from in recent weeks. His name has been tossed about as some sort of rebel in this entire process, the one veteran star brave enough/crazy enough to push for decertification when few others had the gumption to go there.
Pierce has been portrayed as some sort of modern-day NBA version of Robert Roy McGregor and one of the main culprits in the process reaching its breaking point last week with the disbanding of the union and the filing of multiple federal lawsuits. But how you view him is all about perspective, and which side of this argument you are sitting on.
As often seems the case, Pierce’s role has been greatly exaggerated in some respects and probably not given enough credence in others. My main man Marc J. Spears of Yahoo! Sports caught up with Pierce after a charity game Saturday night and the Celtics’ captain and star clears the air on several outstanding issues. It’s always much better to hear it straight from the source (and not an anonymous one) whether or not the rest of us should get our hopes up about the possibility of a 2011-12 season being played:
“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 doesn’t downplay his role in the whole disclaimer/decertification movement on the players’ side. And from what he told Spears he absolutely was the driving force behind informing his fellow players about their options regarding that course of action.
He also made clear that serious decertification talks arose after concerns about the foundation of the union’s leadership (Hunter and Fisher) came into question a few weeks ago, though he did acknowledge that it is something many agents have been pushing for all along:
“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.”
In a wide-ranging Q & A with Spears, Pierce elaborates on a number of topics, including his efforts to help educate some of his peers on the process (this is his second time around. He is one of 33 active players that lived through the previous lockout). And while he certainly doesn’t seem interested in the “nuclear winter” NBA Commissioner David Stern talked about last week, Pierce has a sober perspective on where things stand right now:
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.”