FAYETTEVILLE Ronnie Brewer wore a Chicago Bulls T-shirt Friday when he made an appearance at the Fayetteville Boys and Girls Club.
“If we start back up tomorrow, they’re still going to be the team paying me,” Brewer said with a smile. “So I’ve got to support them.”
Brewer, a former Fayetteville High School and Arkansas standout, is among the NBA players locked out since July 1 as a result of the league’s collective bargaining agreement expiring without a new one in place.
The labor dispute, with the players and owners far apart on issues such as salaries and revenue-sharing, threatens the start of the 2011-2012 season and, in a worst-case scenario, could cause its cancellation.
“We hope it gets done in a speedy process like the NFL did where you don’t have to miss any extended time or any games,” Brewer said of the NFL players and owners recently signing a new collective bargaining agreement. “For the fans’ sake and our sake, we want to get back to work and play the game that we all enjoy.”
Brewer, a 6-7 guard who has played five NBA seasons with the Utah Jazz, Memphis Grizzlies and Bulls, said he’s “very optimistic that we’re going to have a season and get a deal done, because I think on both sides are feeling a lot of pressure.”
Los Angeles Lakers point guard Derek Fisher (Little Rock Parkview, UALR) is president of the NBA Player’s Association and has been heavily involved in negotiations between union leadership and the owners.
“You couldn’t pick a better guy than Derek. You want a guy like him being president of our union,” Brewer said. “I’m just proud to say he’s from Arkansas.
“I had the opportunity to play with him for one year in Utah, and he’s a true professional on the court and off the court.”
Some NBA players have discussed the possibility of playing overseas with the season in jeopardy.
“Going overseas is always an option. But right now, it doesn’t seem like reality,” Brewer said. “But as it becomes later in the year, you have to start thinking about what you’re going to do about your livelihood, which is basketball.”
For now Brewer is doing what he does every offseason, living in Fayetteville and staying in shape by playing pickup games with the Razorbacks.
“To me, they’re making big strides,” Brewer said. “There’s a lot of competitiveness when we play pickup, and I’ve also had a chance to watch them in the weight room. They’ve been working hard.”
Arkansas is expected to get a major boost next season from its four freshmen: guards Ky Madden and B.J. Young and forwards Hunter Mickelson and Devonta Abron.
“Those guys are impressive,” Brewer said. “I think they’ve come here with the intention of starting. They have a lot to bring to the program.”
Brewer was asked specifically his impressions of Madden and Young.
“With Ky, it’s his versatility,” Brewer said. “He can handle the ball, run a team. He can score from the outside shooting jump shots, he can score off pick and rolls, he can score from midrange, and he defends. It’s always good to have a guy who plays both ends of the court at a high level.
“B.J. is a very athletic point guard with great size. To me, his passion to win games is going to propel him over other guys. He wants to be better than anybody on the court at all times.
“Both those guys can step in right away and contribute on a night-in and night-out basis. They’re going to be making a lot of noise the whole year.”
Abron said it’s been exciting to play pickup games against Brewer.
“It feels good playing with an NBA player,” Abron said. “That makes you want to go at him, see where your game is at. I go at him every chance I get.
“The guys tell me to get somebody else, and I go, ‘No, I want to guard him.’ That’s how I get my game better.”
Abron was among several Arkansas players who joined Brewer at the Fayetteville Boys and Girls Club on Friday, when the Razorbacks handed out backpacks and school supplies to children. Brewer high-fived the children and then spoke with them later about working hard in school.
Brewer has continued to make his home in Fayetteville since becoming an NBA player and has been active in many community projects, including fundraising efforts to help pay for an expansion at the Boys and Girls Club.
“It’s priceless all the things Ronnie does for us,” said William Poole, direction of activities at the Boys and Girls Club. “The kids love him, and he relates to them well.”
Brewer said he’s never considered living anywhere other than Fayetteville.
“It gives me a lot of joy to give back to the community where I was raised, where I went to college, where I live right now,” he said. “For me to brighten these kids’ day, I wouldn’t chose to do anything else.”
Brewer signed a three-year deal with the Bulls as a free agent before last season, then averaged 6.2 points, 3.2 rebounds, 1.7 assists and 1.3 steals in 22 minutes per game as Chicago rolled to the NBA’s best overall record at 62-20.
Chicago reached the Eastern Conference finals, where the Bulls lost to the Miami Heat in five games.
“It took a little time to get used to the coaches, being with new players, but all in all I thought we had a good year,” Brewer said. “We took a lot of pride in how hard we worked.
“We were picked fourth or fifth in the East, and we had the best overall record ... but we’re not satisfied with just making the conference finals.
“We’re working hard to get better. I think everybody is disappointed with falling short in the playoffs. Everybody comes in second if you didn’t win a championship, and that’s how we feel.”
Brewer said he believes the Bulls have what it takes to win an NBA title. Now there just needs to be an NBA season.