Wizards free agent swingman Maurice Evans was committed to getting a new collective bargaining agreement over the past two years and especially the past four months, in which he tirelessly traveled back and forth from his home in Texas to New York for hours upon hours of negotiations. He also has gone to regional meetings in Los Angeles and Chicago, tried to calm disheartened players in Las Vegas, and managed to fit in time to complete his college degree at Texas in the process.
As a vice president for the players’ union, Evans worked closely with Executive Director Billy Hunter and President Derek Fisher devising a strategy and attempting to reach a compromise with the league. But on Monday, his services to the players were likely no longer necessary, as the National Basketball Players Association made the stunning decision to disband in order to file an antitrust lawsuit against the NBA.
Evans was admittedly disappointed about the breakdown of negotiations between the players and the owners because “when you’ve been doing this for two years, that’s a lot of time invested on both sides to not come up with a deal.”
After player representatives for 28 of the 30 teams, and about two dozen more players, voted unanimously to file a disclaimer of interest and hire attorneys Jeffrey Kessler and David Boies to represent them in a class-action suit, Evans said the union had little choice but to take that route.
“We’ve literally compromised; we’ve literally bargained in good faith and for that not to be good enough, it’s inexcusable,” he said. “We were left with no options.”
NBA Commissioner David Stern declared last week that the league was done negotiating with the players and gave them an ultimatum to accept the proposal on the table or receive an inferior deal with a smaller revenue split and a hard salary cap. Evans had no confidence that the league would make any amendments to the offer the players received last Friday because the owners failed to make the necessary moves on the six system areas that concerned them.
“We literally needed all six issues to make it palatable,” Evans said. “We came back with all nos and virtually four or five more additional issues that were critical to the bargaining process that we realized that it’s ended. As Stern said, at some point, the bargaining process has to end and it’s ended.”
Evans said he understood that filing a disclaimer of interest and moving the labor dispute to the courts meant that the season is likely in jeopardy and players were prepared for the consequences of the action. In a text message, Wizards forward Trevor Booker wrote that he supported the stance the players made: “Feel bad for the fans and workers, but we had to stand our ground to get a fair deal.”
JaVale McGee was criticized last month for saying that some players were “ready to fold” but he expressed his opinion about the situation on Twitter by blaming the owners. “I hope people aren’t looking at the players to [why] this season isn’t starting.”
A few weeks ago, Wizards guard Jordan Crawford said the owners had put the players in a compromising position with their demands. He sounded resigned to a shortened, if not canceled, season on Twitter: “Played half of 9th grade, None 10th, played half 11th, none 12th, year a prep, played freshman at [Indiana University], sat out first year at [Xavier] . . . Use to it.”
Crawford later tweeted, “Think I’m bout to get this Degree!!”
While a lot has been made about the players’ dissatisfaction with the restrictions on luxury tax teams to spend, the limited options for mid-level free agents and the financial measures that discouraged stars from leaving their teams in free agency, Evans said other less publicized measures also held up the process.
Evans said union leaders were upset that the league demanded that 10 percent of every players’ salary, and possibly more, would be held in an escrow account to ensure that the revenue split remained at 50-50. He added that there was also concern over supposed “B-list” issues, such as contraction, Developmental League assignments, draft-age eligibility and the league’s desire to drug test players during the offseason.
“Those were major issues. Because we couldn’t resolve other issues, they were A-minus or A-plus issues, if you want to categorize them,” Evans said. “They were pertinent; they were relevant.”
Evans said he was pleased to see the players were willing to support the decision by the union, even if it meant losing millions of dollars in the process. He added that players were prepared to lose paychecks — the first were supposed to be received Tuesday — by saving their money. The players also received nearly $160 million in escrow payments last summer after the league failed to give them 57 percent of basketball-related income.
“We’re fortunate in a year when we did get our additional escrow. Guys understand the ramifications. It’s worth the fight,” Evans said. “This goes far beyond paychecks. Derek has alluded to the workers and people who are making sacrifices financially. It’s bigger than just basketball right now. It’s about guys who will play after us. It’s about guys who played before us. Everybody unanimously, understands the consequences and we’re unified.”