- Marc Stein, ESPN Senior Writer
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In his latest letter to fellow players, NBA Players Association president Derek Fisher called for unity, stressing that "we drive this game" and insisting that he still believes there is a "divide" in the ownership ranks that will ultimately lead to a labor agreement the players can accept.
In the letter, sent to players Monday and obtained by ESPN.com, Fisher preached patience, saying that "we can't sell ourselves short for instant gratification."
Fisher wrote: "Our game has never been more popular and we're poised to see tremendous revenue growth over the next 5 to 6 years. ... We must share fairly in the continued growth of our business. Any deal that decouples us from a fair share of the revenue growth in the years ahead is a deal we cannot accept. Period!"
Fisher said he still firmly believes that the NBA's 30 teams do not share the same goals in the lockout -- a point he made in a letter to the union's membership last week.
"There are a number of team owners that will not lose the season over the hard cap system. We've been clear from Day 1 of this process that we cannot sign off on a deal that attempts in any way to include a hard salary cap for our teams. That has not changed," Fisher said. "Unless you, the group we represent, tell us otherwise, we are prepared to hold the line for as long as it takes to preserve the system we've worked so hard to build."
The owners also remain divided over a revenue sharing model, Fisher said, adding that the union still believes a stronger revenue-sharing system would help resolve economic issues facing the league's smaller market teams.
"The same way our max players sacrificed for the larger body of players in the last collective bargaining agreement, it's time for our large market teams to share some of the wealth with each other. We continue to remain firm on the idea that not all of the purported loss figures should be made up solely through the reduction of player salaries," Fisher said.
"We still haven't been presented with any real specifics or proposals that include what a new revenue sharing model will look like," Fisher said. "It is my belief that if they can get us to be short-sighted and agree to an unfair deal they won't have to share more revenue amongst themselves. They will have gotten what they need from us. We can't allow that to happen guys. Not under any circumstances.
"It is also my belief that once they have worked out more of their internal issues, the opportunity to negotiate and get a fair deal done is there."
CBSSports.com reported earlier Monday that the league and the union have scheduled small group sessions for Tuesday and possibly Wednesday to continue talks. Numerous sources close to the situation have told ESPN.com that a deal must be struck by Oct. 15 at the latest to preserve the scheduled start of the regular season Nov. 1.
The union canceled a scheduled regional meeting Tuesday in Miami, sources said, so its negotiators can resume talks with the owners in New York.
The NBA on Friday postponed training camps indefinitely and canceled 43 preseason games from Oct. 9-15, one day after the latest negotiating session failed to produce a deal. The lockout entered its 88th day on Monday; camps were expected to open Oct. 3.
It remains to be seen if Fisher's comments that the union would back away from its longstanding opposition to a hard cap -- if the group at large consents to that concession -- represents a softening from the union side or become a rallying point that strengthens the players' resolve to resist it.
"I want to make something absolutely clear about this process," Fisher wrote. "You ultimately have the voice and the power in these negotiations. Those of us that are in the room negotiating with the NBA cannot agree to any deal or deal points, good or bad, without taking your vote. Despite what you may hear, we don't have the authority to sell you out or sell you short."
"We are a group of some of the most talented, savvy, businessmen and business owners in the world," Fisher added. "We have built our own brands, launched our own and other people's companies, helped our communities. I keep that in the forefront of my mind each time we go into a negotiating session.
"If a Bill Gates, Warren Buffett or Russell Simmons were in this, there is no way they would take a deal that is unfair. Not when we are the talent, the most coveted asset, the most valuable resource that drives this business. Keep that in your mind as we walk down this road shoulder to shoulder," he said.
Fisher's first letter was more adversarial in tone, challenging the faction of agents who have discussed the possibility of pushing for the decertification of the union. ESPN.com reported earlier this month that five of the league's most influential player agents -- Arn Tellem, Bill Duffy, Mark Bartelstein, Jeff Schwartz and Dan Fegan -- spoke by phone Sept. 12 about the process of dissolving the players association.
"What would be appreciated by the 400-plus players would be the support of our agents and constructive ideas, suggestions and solutions that are in our best interests," Fisher wrote in the first letter. "Not the push for a drastic move that leaves their players without a union, without pensions, without health care. We just aren't there."
The league locked out the players on July 1 after the expiration of the old labor agreement. Owners and players still haven't agreed on how to divide revenues -- players were guaranteed 57 percent under the previous deal -- or the system that will divide those revenues.
During Thursday's negotiations, league officials offered players a 46 percent share of basketball-related revenue, 11 percent less than they received in the last deal and 7 percent less than the last proposal by players, Bucher reported. Sources say that the players' union has offered to reduce its percentage to as much as 54 percent, with the stipulation that a mechanism would be instituted to reward the players if future revenue increased.
The owners agreed to try to come up with a mechanism to solve their issues without adding a hard salary cap before the next meeting, according to one source. But a hard cap is presumed to be the owners' overwhelming preferences after claims they lost $300 million last season.
Union chief Billy Hunter told reporters two weeks ago that he has already cautioned players that they might have to be willing to sacrifice half of the upcoming season to secure a deal that does not include a hard cap.
Marc Stein is a senior NBA writer for ESPN.com. ESPN The Magazine's Ric Bucher and The Associated Press contributed to this report.
19hMatt Walks, ESPN.com