Sterling misdeeds unite league, union

"The league and the players recently have been working more closely together across the board, not just through this event," said Ron Klempner, the NBPA's acting executive director. "Our player programs staffs have experienced something of a thaw. Everyone feels more secure and confident, knowing that we can work together with the league on projects that will benefit the players."

Paul and Johnson quickly agreed to expand his role within hours of the Sterling tape becoming public last Saturday. Before Silver's plane had even landed in Memphis, Tennessee, Johnson was on the phone setting up the union's position and gathering support and creating a position to make sure the union would be involved.

By the next day, Silver and Johnson were meeting in Oakland, California, before the Clippers and Warriors played in a playoff game where a silent protest was waged by players.

Both men were looking for support. Silver needed the players to remain patient while he sorted through his options and Johnson needed Silver to include the union in a process from which it might have been excluded in the past. Almost instantly, Johnson and Silver formed an alliance.

"The players felt right from the start of this that they had to be equal partners," Johnson said. "Commissioner Silver was very receptive and he was very open with us about what his powers were as he explained the options."

It's a long way from 2017, which is the next time the CBA can be up for renewal and the union and league will likely hunker down. But it's also a long way from 2011, when the lockout had the two sides at each other's throats for months.

In an unexpected way, the drama the Sterling matter created ended up becoming a foundation for a new face of the union and the new commissioner coming together to solve a problem in a way that benefited both of them.

Already the nature of the calendar -- this period between CBAs is fertile for creating better working relationships -- had seen the sides lower their guards. The new blood has helped and will continue to develop with a new executive director expected by the start of next season.

Johnson's ability to execute and his respect level among current players would make him a strong candidate for becoming the permanent union executive director, a job that has carried a seven-figure salary. But Johnson, whose political career is on the upswing, says he's no candidate.

"I don't believe this is a job for me," Johnson says. "But we're absolutely going to get the right person to be the executive director and this process has helped strengthen the field."

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