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Wade provides seminal moment in talks
This was the long-awaited show of defiance from the players' side, a unifying moment that would resonate within the 400-plus membership of the NBPA, which, up until now, seemed to be on the ropes with a towel in hand.
There was David Stern telling the players how it was and how it had to be. Stern has been driving this lockout with both hands on the wheel, and he was ready to steer it home in time to save the full schedule. Then Dwyane Wade, who finally decided to take a break from commercial shoots and sneaker tours to check in on the proceedings, apparently got annoyed at the 69-year-old commissioner for gesturing toward the valuable merchandise.
"Don't talk to me like I'm a child," Wade allegedly snapped back. "I have kids."
This was first reported by ESPN's Chris Broussard and followed up by several other media outlets, including TNT (and NBAtv) reporter David Aldridge.
Make no mistake about it: Wade is the ringleader of this generation of NBA players. This current group doesn't have a Michael Jordan, a superstar that everyone reveres, but they do have Wade, whom everyone likes.
Derek Fisher is the president of the players union, but Wade is the president of the fraternity. While Kobe Bryant, the greatest player of the generation, was in Italy working on a complicated deal to play for Bologna, Wade was standing behind Fisher during the press conference after five hours of apparently useless banter -- save for Wade's rebel yell -- stifling a laugh along with the other frat boys: LeBron James, Baron Davis, Ray Allen and Carmelo Anthony.
Neither Wade, nor LeBron or Melo, stopped to offer their input on the five-hour meeting. Instead, they exited stage left through a side door and bolted for an awaiting car on the sidewalk. Giving them the benefit of the doubt, this was no time to upstage Fisher.
And Fisher did admit there were times the meeting got "contentious," but he wouldn't publicly acknowledge anything that was said in the meeting or any specific moments when a player spoke out. When asked if he could name one guy who said something that made an impact, Fisher replied, "I would say that would be me."
Of course Fisher knew there was little doubt the incident between Wade and Stern would be leaked to the media.
It was earlier in the day when Wade had first made headlines in a story posted by Yahoo! Sports, in which he agreed that NBA stars are, in comparison to other sports, underpaid. Wade said in an open market, star players might be able to get as much as $50 million per season.
“You’ve got guys – starting with Michael Jordan, Shaquille O’Neal, and Kobe and LeBron – all players that individually people wanted to come to see," Wade said, carefully leaving himself out off the list. "And wanted to just have a glimpse, just one glimpse, to be able to say that I’ve seen that person play. For what they’ve done for the game, what they’ve done for organizations, I don’t think you can really put a dollar amount on it.”
He was absolutely right. This is a league based on stars. But the timing couldn't have been worse. This was the last thing the union needed; a new version of Kenny Anderson's infamous (and, of course, misrepresented) comment, "I'm thinking of selling one of my cars" during the 1998-99 lockout.
And this was the last thing middle class players, for whom most of this labor fight is about, needed to hear from a star player. The NBA's middle class is battling to preserve their security and the owners essentially view them as interchangable parts that shouldn't take up so much salary cap space.
In other words, like the NFL model. For instance, the reported plan to reduce the Bird Rights provision to one per year is essentially a form of the NFL's Franchise Tag. That protects stars. Short, limited contracts for everyone else creates constant turnover for players and constant flexibility for teams.
So Wade's words could have been deadly to the union, but the day wasn't over yet. All it took was one moment of defiance to make him the long-awaited hero that they all followed out of the room moments later.
Yes, the union desperately needed some defiance to emerge from an influential voice. Fisher has been level-headed, measured and incredibly respectful. Aside for Chris Paul, the rest of the NBPA's executive committee is made up of unheralded players. Again, in 1998-99, the main union voices came from Patrick Ewing and Alonzo Mourning, both widely-respected players. But it was Jordan, especially after he spit "If you can't make a profit, then sell your team" in the face of former Washington Wizards owner Abe Pollin, that galvanized the union by his powerful presence at the talks.
The comparison between the two moments, however, ends here. The league was built on Jordan and his success not only on the court, but off of it. He was arguably the most influential person in the room, even when Stern was in it, too. But Wade, though a great player and former champion, isn't anywhere near Jordan in terms of importance to the league. But he is respected by players, he is the ringleader and they needed someone to speak out and shock some of these owners who keep perpetuating this idea through some media outlets that these talks are headed to a deal.
Though Fisher spoke of an "engaging" round of talks on Friday and both sides felt there was a need to continue the dialogue, the only real reason some players exited the meeting feeling good about what they saw is because so many players felt the union was dead in the water.
If anything, we at least did learn something from Friday: the union is going to dig in and battle. And while Stern made sure to dismiss the ESPN report that said he would cancel the entire season if a deal isn't reached this weekend, he couldn't entirely dismiss that the longer this thing goes, the more difficult it will get.
"Once you start to lose [games] and the players lose paychecks and the owners lose money," Stern said, "then positions on both sides are hardened."