As a vice president with the National Basketball Players Association, Maurice Evans had made getting the players a new, fair collective bargaining agreement his primary goal since the season ended. The players’ union and the NBA owners have yet to meet that objective without losing regular season games, but Evans can still feel a sense of accomplishment about this offseason.
Because in the midst of attending numerous bargaining sessions in New York, running regional players meetings in Chicago and Las Vegas, and going over strategies with union president Derek Fisher and executive director Billy Hunter, Evans managed to finally get his degree in education from the University of Texas.
“I was very proud of that,” Evans said this week. “Unfortunately, that doesn’t make as much news as the bargaining sessions, but I’ve had a great and productive summer.”
Evans, 32, left Texas after his junior season in 2001, hoping to be drafted in the first round but wound up going undrafted. He scrapped his way into a NBA and has outlasted 12 first-rounders from that draft, but he always felt the void of not having his degree. “I know I’m a leader on and off the court and before you can commence in anything, you have to finish stages and that was the stage left open due to me continuing my NBA career,” Evans said. “Once I had a break due to this lockout, I was able to find the time.”
The pursuit of his diploma required some serious dedication. He worked with Randa Ryan, the senior associate athletic director for student services at Texas, and came up with a plan to quickly complete the task. He took 18 hours of online classes last season, then enrolled in two full summer sessions at Austin, leaving his home in Katy to take a two-hour drive and physically attend classes.
“I knocked them out. It was great, a great experience,” Evans said. “I was happy to reconnect with the Longhorn family and some of those young guys there and being a leader on my team and in the community, I’ve learned the importance of having a degree and honing your skills and empowering yourself, enriching yourself. That’s why I did this. I can be a contributor more than just on the court for my team, but in the community and even to our front offices.”
Evans is already thinking about his career once his playing days are done and said he established a great relationship with Atlanta Hawks General Manager Rick Sund and later Wizards General Manager Ernie Grunfeld, though he spent just two months in Washington. Listening to and trading ideas with front office executives “gets you to thinking,” he said.
Evans is expected to join Hunter and Fisher in Los Angeles for a regional meeting with players, and the union and league are scheduled to meet with a federal mediator by next Tuesday. Commissioner David Stern said on Thursday that if they cannot reach an agreement by early next week, then the whole season could be in jeopardy.
“For somebody, at this stage in my career, closer to the end of my career than the beginning, I don’t want to lose a year,” Evans said. “But I am committed to working on my game and staying in shape, bargaining and doing all that I can do to protect this game and to educate the players and to allow us to be in an advantageous position when this is all said and done.”
Though he is a free agent after averaging a career-best 9.7 points in his short stint with the Wizards, Evans said he doesn’t feel a greater urgency based on how the new deal would affect him. “I’m taking the personal feelings out of this. I’m dealing for players who have since retired, such as the Michael Jordans of the world, all that they sacrificed to help get this game to where it is, and for future players and all those coming after us. So this is much bigger than Mo Evans or Derek Fisher or any of the guys still playing. This is for a broader scale about the future and integrity of the game.”
Evans turned down several offers to play in Europe this summer because “I’ve been committed to this process and I look forward to being a free agent as well. I came off a productive year in Washington and I’m looking forward to capitalizing off of that, with whatever playing situation that’s available to me that makes sense. I’ve been very, very close to Derek Fisher and Mr. Hunter through out this process and that education is something that you can’t pay for.”