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Heed NHLPA warning: Time for NBA players to submit and play

Derek Fisher doesn't know from Trevor Linden. But he needs to understand that everything he is experiencing right now with the National Basketball Players Association, Linden endured as president of the NHLPA in 2004-05.

Linden had to privately take on union leader Bob Goodenow while holding off angry agents and anxious players as the lockout carried through December and threatened to blow up the entire season. Linden, like Fisher, was a polite, accomplished player who had the respect of his peers for his calm, measured tones and ability to comprehend the confusing economics of collective bargaining.

But when word got out that the union offered a hard cap system after Linden, union head Bob Goodenow and the union had, for months, insisted that they wouldn't, all hell broke loose. And when a group of agents worked with Linden and the union's No. 2 man, Ted Saskin, to essentially overthrow Goodenow for a last-ditch (and failed) effort to save the season, the union imploded.

And Linden, who even tried to hold a few meetings without Goodenow and NHL commissioner Gary Bettman in the room, took all of the bullets.

Hunter talked about making the owners feel some pain, bragged about how the players won't miss November paychecks because of money the union held on to -- money that was already owed to the players -- was being dispersed. Hunter walked away from the negotiating table last Friday with the sides closing in on a deal. He did this a day after saying he would stay for "as much time as it takes" to get a deal.

And now there is Fisher taking bullets. There is Hunter speaking with a commanding voice as the NBPA continues to look amateurish with leaked letters to the membership. This effort to win over fans sentiment is illogical. This isn't their money, so they don't care. Quite frankly, you shouldn't care what they think, either. Again, it's not their money.

What you should be doing -- which we've implored of you in the past here -- is to study the history of pro sports labor. Go back to that 2004-05 hockey season, when the union was on the verge of splintering and yet the leadership maintained a defiant front, saying we DARE you to cancel the entire season.

And when the dust settled in July 2005, when a new CBA was finally ratified, the NHLPA eventually agreed to a deal that may have been slightly better than what they could have taken in February to save the season. In the final deal, the players essentially accepted a hard cap "flex" system with a lower cap number ($39 million) than the one they could have had in February ($42.5 million), but the final deal was linked to league revenue, which allowed for growth. The cap grew to $44 million in 2006-07.

But with a year burned, the players were left to several realizations:

1. Young players missed an entire season of coaching and development.

2. Older players lost a valuable year of their career, not to mention salary

3. Many players, especially those in their prime, discovered how difficult it was to relight the competitive fire after a full year away from the game at it's highest level.

4. The game suffered immeasurable losses beyond revenue

So was it worth it? Bill Guerin, one player who was in his prime at the time as one of the league's best forwards and also a member of the NHLPA executive committee, says no.

"It's not worth it," Guerin, a former Islander, told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram last week. "Get a deal done."

Think Billy isn't being direct enough, NBPA?

"It is not worth it to any of them to burn games or to burn an entire year," Guerin says of the NBA players. "Burning a year was ridiculous. It wasn't worth me giving up $9 million a year, or 82 games plus the playoffs, then having a crappy year and being bought out . . . Guys in the NBA making $15 million or however much better think long and hard about this."

The star players have had plenty to say throughout this process. Twenty-million dollar men such as Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce were allowed to dismiss a 50-50 concept when it was presented by David Stern in a sidebar meeting. Dwyane Wade has been vocal and stole headlines with his class clown defiance against the school marm, Stern, in one of those meetings.

But where is Shane Battier, who correctly took on Hunter over the summer? Where are the middle class players who stand to lose the most and whom aren't being called to play in any barnstorming games for extra loot?

No, the fans don't care about your plight. Is it unfair that the owners want to take back way more than you are willing to give up? Yes. But while you are the product, they are the owners. And that was a lesson Guerin had to learn the hard way in 2004-05.

"It's not a partnership, it's their league," Guerin said. "And you are going to play when they want."

If you think this makes Guerin sound weak, understand that he was one of the NHL's best power forwards of his time. There's nothing weak about Bill Guerin. These are just the words of a man educated by experience.

"We could have waited two years and they would have waited us out -- I would have given an extra two percent back to play that year," he said. "When you are in the heat of battle, and you are fired up, you don't think what they are doing is right. But it's not about what is right or wrong -- it's their league. It's theirs.

"I feel, personally, I didn't like guys giving up a year of their career, for what? A few less bucks? Guys are making more money now than they ever have . . . The only thing you can die in the battlefield for in something like this is guaranteed contracts; everything else is nickel-and-dime stuff and it's not worth it."

Take heed, Derek Fisher. And when you meet on Thursday, demand to take a vote, players.

New York Sports