Over the past few months, as Chauncey Billups read and heard stories about the decertification of the NBA players' union, one thing seemed odd to him: it was always the agents calling for decertification.
To Billups, the notion of agents telling players they need to decertify was backwards. After all, the agents work for the players, not vice versa.
So Billups became proactive, telling players wherever he found them to stick with the union. While training in Las Vegas, he spoke to guys before or after workouts. While at Chris Paul's wedding in North Carolina a couple weeks ago, he pulled LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Carmelo Anthony aside for a moment.
After speaking with nearly 50 players, Billups is now convinced that most of the league's players understand they should not let their agents lead them towards decertification.
"I felt like this thing is really between the players, our union, and the owners," Billups said in a telephone interview Tuesday. "That's been my stance. I'm not saying agents are not important at all. I love my agent and we have a great relationship. But this is not really between the agents and the owners. We shouldn't be persuaded to decertify by somebody who shouldn't be doing any persuading. I expressed that to some of the guys and they agreed with me, and that's why we have such great unity right now in the union."
Billups, who is represented by Andy Miller, is not against using decertification as a last resort. But he feels like the players should put their full support behind players association head Billy Hunter and the union and let the negotiations play out before opting to decertify.
Billups will turn 35 next week and he's one of the most respected players in the league. His back story of having been at every level of the pay grade has enabled him to relate to the different types of players he's talked with. The 14-year veteran had two mid-level contracts before finally reaching eight figures annually in 2007. And now that he's scheduled for the biggest payday of his career ($14.2 million), the season is in jeopardy. But Billups said he's willing to forgo that to get a good deal for the players going forward.
"It's a tough situation for me," he said. "Selfishly, I want that money. I earned that money over a long time. I feel like it should've come to me a long time ago, but it didn't. But I remember the first lockout in 1998 and all those guys who were in the position I'm in now -- Charles Oakley, Patrick Ewing, Michael Jordan. They were finally getting their balloon payments but they stood up and said, 'Listen we're going to do what's right and make sure the league is in good shape when we're done.' I remember that vividly. So now I want to make sure the Derrick Roses and all the young guys coming up have the opportunity to one day be able to get paid.
"The guys who have played the amount of years that I've played -- we know this deal is not really going to affect us that much.
We're in the twilight years of our careers. The importance of this deal is for the young guys."
Miller, who in addition to Billups represents Kevin Garnett, has not been one of the agents pushing for decertification.
"Andy's following it closely, but he stays in his lane," Billups said. "He's not one of the guys in there trying to persuade everybody to decertify so (the agents') power can increase. Me and him would've had a big issue if he was. But he's not. He just gets all the information and reports back to his guys. He does what I think an agent should do."
Kobe Bryant is also working to keep the players together. Hunter told the Los Angeles Times that Bryant has been "deeply involved" in the meetings and has volunteered to share "in a pool of revenue to help the other (players) get through" the lockout.
"He and others are prepared to loan money if necessary," Hunter told the newspaper.
Billups, who is currently in Las Vegas playing in the Impact Basketball League, believes the players are unified enough to miss as many games as necessary to get a solid deal from the league.
"I think the guys are 100 percent unified," he said. "Don't get me wrong -- nobody wants to miss a game. I don't think the owners do, and I know we don't. However, negotiations are negotiations and we're going to have to come to an agreement at some point. Hopefully, sooner rather than later. But if not, we're in this fight for the long haul."
Chris Broussard covers the NBA for ESPN The Magazine.