In December, after Derek Fisher had worked hundreds and hundreds of hours negotiating a labor agreement with the NBA as president of the Players Association, he believed the drama was over. Fisher could concentrate on helping the Lakers make the final title run of his 16-year career. That he would have a job seemed a certainty.
Six months later, Fisher is still addressing the media, but as a member of the Oklahoma City Thunder, who are in the NBA Finals against the Miami Heat.
This abbreviated season brought an avalanche of changes for Fisher.
In March, he was abruptly traded by the Lakers to the Houston Rockets, a team that wanted his expiring contract and nothing more. Four days after acquiring him, Houston waived him. And two days after that, he found himself in Oklahoma City, having signed as a free agent to be a much-needed veteran presence on a team of mostly inexperienced yet talented youngsters.
Fisher, 37, has emerged as the first guard off the bench for the Thunder as he seeks his sixth NBA title.
But back in April, while on-court matters had calmed down, the Players Association executive committee voted to call for Fisher’s resignation as president, a move he has refused.
It was rumored during negotiations that Fisher was at constant odds with NBPA executive director Billy Hunter, a notion both denied. But the executive committee vote, along with Fisher’s suggestion that the NBPA be audited because of Hunter’s financial dealings, proved different.
Fisher is, as usual, calm amid the storm of chaos, refusing to allow union business to affect his quest for a title.
“You focus on the task at hand and the job you’re doing at the time,’’ Fisher said. “Whether it’s Players Association responsibilities or my own personal family obligations and responsibilities, when I come to work and I get to the practice facility or I get to the arena, I’m doing my job there for my team.
“That’s the way I’ve always looked at it and always will. It’s important to be able to do those things, and I have my times where I stop and take a look back and reflect on things, and that will come sometime in July hopefully.
“But being with the team and on the court, I think, for a lot of basketball players has been that place where you can kind of get away from that stuff. And that’s been the same for me.’’
Fisher has received very little support from fellow players during the past few months. Celtics guard Keyon Dooling, as an executive committee member, was one of those who voted for Fisher’s ouster. He declined comment on the NBPA’s stance toward Fisher.
There was even a perception during negotiations that Fisher was aligning with commissioner David Stern to improve his chances of post-career employment with the NBA.
It is uncertain how long Fisher can continue as president if the executive director and the executive committee want him out.
“I think it’s normal, whether it’s basketball players or just people in general, not to comment much on things they don’t fully understand,’’ he said. “And so you have to respect the fact that a lot of guys just are not in a place to fully understand all the details that have taken place.
“At the right time, I and we will deal with that and what we feel like is the best way for the players as a whole. But now we’re trying to put a cap on what fortunately has been a great season.’’
Regardless of the upheaval in the NBPA, Fisher said, he takes pride in helping facilitate a deal when it appeared the NBA would commit image suicide with a canceled season.
“For obvious reasons, we all had a vested interest in trying to get basketball back onto the floor and out of the conference room,’’ said Fisher. “We all should be proud of our effort but must appreciate the people sticking with our game and coming back.
“It’s remarkable to think that people have continued to come back and want to watch our game. These players, you can’t get this anywhere else. You can’t find LeBron [James] on any other channel. There’s not Kevin Durant on other programming. It’s what makes this business really special.’’
TALES OF TWO CITIES
Not quiet on Western front
The NBA Finals are in full swing and the NBA has recovered nicely from the lockout, but there are some interesting happenings occurring in two West Coast cities, one that wants a team and another that may lose its team to that city.
The city of Seattle is building momentum for getting an NBA team back after the SuperSonics left for Oklahoma City in 2008. Mayor Mike McGinn, who appears more engaged in the NBA than his predecessor Greg Nickels was, met with commissioner David Stern Monday to discuss the city’s interest in a team if a proposed arena plan is passed by the city and county councils, which is expected.
“We’re just delighted that the mayor is interested, that they’re considering legislation, and that somebody wants an NBA team,’’ Stern said.
On Thursday, the day the Thunder lost Game 2 of the Finals to the Heat, supporters of the NBA’s return to Seattle held a rally near City Hall, which was attended by former Celtic Nate Robinson, ex-Sonic Gary Payton, and former Seattle high school standout Spencer Hawes, now a member of the 76ers.
Stern said before the Finals began that the league has no plans to expand, making the Sacramento Kings a potential target for Seattle. The Kings had an arena plan with the city agreed upon before the season began in December, but the Maloof brothers, the team’s owners, now say they didn’t agree to all the conditions of the deal.
Stern does not want the Kings to play in Power Balance Pavilion but is annoyed that the Maloofs backed out of the deal with Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson, a former NBA All-Star.
Stern made it clear that if the Maloofs have any intention of moving the team to Anaheim, as they originally desired, the league would swat that plan out of bounds.
Stern is in a rather helpless position because he gave the city of Sacramento the requested time to develop a plan, and it met his requirements, combining city funds, a ticket surcharge, and contributions from the Maloofs for a $391 million project.
But the Maloofs say they never committed to the amount the city requested and the plan is on hold. Stern said he does not want to penalize the city because it fulfilled expectations, and he can’t force the Maloofs to sell or agree to the plan without potential legal ramifications.
“That’s why they make you play the game, and we have to see how that pans out,’’ Stern said. “The last thing I heard was the Kings were going to be at Power Balance Arena. Good luck with that. That’s their prerogative. As long as it stands and passes the fire code, I think it’s been a terrific place for the fans of Sacramento.’’
Stern would much rather see a new arena, but he won’t disappoint what has been a loyal fan base by offering up the franchise to the highest-bidding city. There was a perception that he did that with the SuperSonics because he was angry at the rude reception he received from the Washington state legislature and Seattle’s refusal to cooperate with team owner Clay Bennett on building a new venue.
Stern had nothing but positives to say about Sacramento, however.
“I’ll say again, the fans of Sacramento, the businesses of Sacramento, the city of Sacramento have been great partners of the NBA,’’ he said. “Everyone has often said the only reason I’m so intent on [keeping the Kings in] Sacramento is because I feel badly about Seattle.
“I feel badly about Seattle for different reasons because I see it as a failure. But what they’re doing in Sacramento is exactly what we couldn’t get in Seattle. They said, ‘Here’s a building. Here’s the land. Here’s the support of the town. Let’s go.’
“It was my view that when someone does that for you, that you step up and you indicate that you’re a good partner with them. That’s what we’ve tried to do.’’
Stern is obviously not pleased with the Maloofs, but their history with the Kings has encouraged patience with the situation.
“I’ve known their family for a long time, and I consider myself to be a good friend of the family,’’ he said. “I did something unprecedented in Sacramento, I pledged both league money to loan them and a subsidy of the other owners’ money and I’m still here.
“So that means that the owners understood what I was doing on their behalf but I always said it was their right to say they didn’t want to do it. And now we’ll see what it is they want to do.’’
Trend is just a frame-up
Remember the 1980s and ’90s, when accomplished NBA players wore well-tailored suits or at least dress shirts to postgame interviews - when the media sessions weren’t overshadowed by the absurdity of the outfits worn by millionaire players? Well, those days are dwindling.
Rare is the day when a Ray Allen brings a touch of class to the podium with a pristine suit. The norm now is Oklahoma City’s Russell Westbrook wearing short-sleeve shirts with animals splattered on the front, as if he were shooting a Garanimals commercial. And Westbrook also made headlines by claiming that he was the first player to wear lens-less eyeglasses, as if that were something to boast about.
LeBron James, a 6-foot-8-inch, 260-pound behemoth, inexplicably has participated in the latest dressing trends, and he appeared slightly offended when told that Westbrook was taking credit for the lens-less glasses.
“There’s no stories behind it,’’ James said. “You know, it’s a look, it’s a fashion thing. But he absolutely didn’t start it. I don’t know who started it, honestly.
“I think I’ve wearing mine for about two years now. But I don’t know who started it. None of us started it. It could have started back in the ’70s or ’80s. I’m serious. I mean, fashion comes and goes.’’
Heat guard Dwyane Wade was more reflective when asked about his fashion sense.
“Just like everybody, we all have something that we like outside of what we do,’’ Wade said. “For me, growing up my whole life, when I was a kid, seeing my dad go to work every day, his job was to make it boring and simple, to drive a van around and deliver things. And he dressed up, he wore suits.
“What I really seen was that it’s his job, he’s a professional, and he’s going to dress that way. So I just put a little spin on it, you know, have a little fun with it, and over the course of time, my tastes have changed, and I take more risk.
“I enjoy it more so than anything. The whole fashion trends that come up, I don’t know, I’m sure it was done. Spike Lee been wearing glasses for a long time. I don’t know if they’re prescription or not.
“Trends, they come and go, and people get on board with them or they don’t. With the nerd glasses that comes in the NBA, it’s just something fun to do right now. I’m sure next season it’ll be out the window.’’
Let’s hope so.
Official tribute to a colleague
Game officials will wear No. 57 for the remainder of the playoffs in honor of longtime official Greg Willard, who was recently diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. Willard last worked Game 4 of the Celtics-Heat series but was replaced for Game 6 of Spurs-Thunder. He has worked NBA games for 24 years, including the previous two Finals.
While Robert J. Pera, who purchased the Grizzlies from Michael Heisley last week, has promised to keep the team in Tennessee, he is from Northern California, and cities such as San Jose are clamoring for an NBA team. The Grizzlies can opt out of their lease in 2016 and relocate, but Stern appears satisfied that Pera will keep the team in Memphis. Oracle owner Larry Ellison also expressed interest in the Grizzlies but wanted to relocate the club to San Jose.
Tim Duncan is an unrestricted free agent and has said repeatedly over the past few months that he does not plan to retire. While Duncan chose to allow his current contract to expire, he still believes he can play a productive role with the Spurs next season if they keep their core intact. Duncan, 36, said losing weight and reducing his minutes extended his endurance in the playoffs . . . Jameer Nelson is seriously considering opting out of his contract for $7.8 million. His thinking is that if he can get a longer contract for less money per season but more security, he will give free agency a chance. Nelson is coming off a career-worst year with the Magic, which may have been directly affected by Dwight Howard’s season-long issues about his future . . . NBA insiders are stunned by the absence of Oklahoma City assistant general manager Troy Weaver as a finalist for the opening in Orlando. Weaver has been in the Thunder front office for five years and is considered one of the top young executives in the league. Weaver was briefly a candidate before owner Rich DeVos narrowed the choices to San Antonio assistant GM Dennis Lindsey, Oklahoma City executive Ron Hennigan, and former New Orleans GM Jeff Bower.