- Marc Stein, Senior Writer, ESPN.com
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In his latest letter to fellow players, union president Derek Fisher strongly denied a report published over the weekend that claimed union executive director Billy Hunter and another unnamed member of the union's executive board have questioned Fisher about his relationship with NBA commissioner David Stern and deputy commissioner Adam Silver.
In Monday night's letter, which was obtained by ESPN.com, Fisher responded to Friday's report from FoxSports.com columnist Jason Whitlock and suggestions that the union's leadership is splintering by telling its members: "Usually I wouldn't even dignify absurd media reports with a comment. But before these reports go any further, let me say on the record to each of you [that] my loyalty has and always will be with the players.
"Anyone that questions that or doubts that does not know me, my history and what I stand for," Fisher said. "And quite frankly, how dare anyone call that into question? The Players Association is united and any reports to the contrary are false. There have been no side agreements, no side negotiations or anything close. We are united in serving you and presenting the best options and getting everyone back to work."
A source told FoxSports.com that Fisher has been negotiating privately with Stern and Silver and promised the NBA's top two officials that he could deliver the union's signoff on a 50/50 split of annual revenue (known as basketball related income) in the next labor deal. According to the report, the concerns about Fisher's allegiance to Stern and Silver are similar to criticisms faced by former union president Michael Curry in 2005 when the previous labor deal was negotiated. Curry soon began working for the NBA after that deal was completed.
Fisher released a statement Tuesday night demanding a retraction from FoxSports.com.
"The statements made in recent articles on the Fox Sports website are inexcusable," Fisher said. "Among the many baseless accusations, to allege that I am working with the league for my personal gain is unequivocally false. The implication that I am doing anything but working in the best interests of the players is disgusting, defamatory and a flat out lie."
With optimism spreading that a deal to save a full 82-game season was close late last week, negotiations abruptly collapsed Friday when the league refused to budge from its 50/50 BRI proposal and Hunter held firm at 52.5 percent.
Earlier Monday, Hunter told the Sports Business Journal: "My relationship with Derek is very good. There was no confrontation."
The owners and players have not scheduled any further bargaining sessions, but Fisher's letter seemed to hint that another round is coming soon. He wrote: "I will be in touch later this week with updates on the details of the negotiations." Yahoo! Sports reported Monday night that the sides are weighing whether to reintroduce federal mediator George Cohen into the talks.
In the letter, Fisher added: "Interesting times right now. The clock is ticking and we are aware that games are being lost, our jobs are on the line as are those of all the arena workers and business owners impacted by the lockout. ... My goal [and] the Executive Committee's ONLY goal is to present you with the most fair deal possible. A deal that is both fair on system and BRI. One isn't more important than the other. They are both extremely impactful to our business, our sport and our day to day life in the league.
"The attempt by 'sources' to divide us will be unsuccessful," Fisher continued. "We will continue to work every day to do right by you, the businesses that depend on our league and our fans.
"The NBA and the owners have not allowed us to go back to work. So they have essentially turned their backs on not only the players, but the fans that have made them billions. I hope they decide to change that. It's the only way everyone wins."
Marc Stein is a senior NBA writer for ESPN.com.
Derek Fisher strongly denied a published report over the weekend that union president Billy Hunter and other members of the executive board have questioned Fisher about his relationship with commissioner David Stern and deputy commissioner Adam Silver.