JaVale McGee probably wasn’t expecting to dominate the headlines on Friday at the National Basketball Players Association regional meeting at the Beverly Hilton in Los Angeles. After all, McGee took to his Twitter account upon arrival to say: “Good thing about NBPA meetings is the layout of food! Scrumptious!”
The Wizards center had to leave the meeting early, but his comments to reporters as he waited at the valet for his vehicle provided more fodder than his review of the cuisine. When asked about the resolve of the players, with the NBA already canceling the first two weeks of the regular season, McGee said, “There’s definitely some guys in there saying that they’re ready to fold, but the majority are willing to stand strong.”
The players’ union would prefer to convey a message of solidarity at a time when Commissioner David Stern has been on a media blitz to pressure the players into accepting a deal soon or risk losing most of the regular season.
Though McGee later explained that the union was effectively able to change the opinions of pessimistic players intent on accepting the owners’ demands in order to get back on the court, the phrase “ready to fold” picked up the most traction in the blogosphere.
McGee made matters worse when he tried to diffuse the situation by denying on Twitter that he made the comment. He wrote: “I never said anyone is ready to fold! Media always wanna turn it!”
The problem with McGee’s denial is that nearly a dozen reporters had it on tape. No way he could claim that his mouth was hacked. The Los Angeles Times posted the audio on its Web site as proof. ESPNLosAngeles.com later posted the video of McGee making the comment, which was more than likely accurate but not appropriate when the players’ union was trying to stress a unified front — at least from those making public comments. Hard to believe that there haven’t been more suggestions from players that all 400 or so don’t totally agree.
In a news conference later, union President Derek Fisher didn’t appear to be ruffled by what McGee said. “The person that spent the least amount of time in the room can’t make that statement,” Fisher said. “He’s in no position to make that statement on behalf of the group.”
Fisher then added that there is no way that every player was going to have the same opinion about the protracted labor dispute, but felt that the overall consensus was for the union to continue the fight.
“Within all those different prospects and positions, you’re going to have differing opinions and thoughts about what should be going on,” Fisher said. “But at the end of the day, that’s my job, Billy’s job, Maurice [Evans’s] job, our player reps and our guys to weigh the statements made by the guys who spend the least amount of time in the room versus the guys’ statements who spend the most amount of time in the room. At the end of the day, we come out with a decision that’s best for a majority of our guys.”
With several players chuckling off the incident, union executive director Billy Hunter interjected: “It was a shame [McGee] left so soon. As it turned out, the pacifists in the room happened to be me and Derek. These guys behind us happen to be extremely strident. They thought we were starting to weaken.”
McGee had more to say before the departed the meeting, such as his “disappointment” that more players weren’t in attendance, estimating that 25 to 30 players were in attendance. “We got to get more people to come to the meetings.”
He also supported the stance of the players’ union, which has been adamant about holding firm until it receives what it perceives as a fair deal from the owners. “They definitely have a strong strategy, a very intelligent strategy if I say so myself,” McGee said, adding that they stressed the importance of “knowing the facts and making sure we stand strong for what we believe in and what we feel is fair.”
McGee said the union was able to satiate players who were “ready to fold” after they “threw some facts at them that it made more sense to negotiate.”
The NBA and its players union will meet with a mediator on Tuesday in New York and Stern said that if a deal isn’t reached by then, that there won’t be any basketball by Christmas. “Extremely critical,” McGee said of the meeting next week, “because it’s closer and closer to when the season will start. The closer we get, the more games we lose. So it’s definitely critical.”