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Thunder G and NBPA President Derek Fisher “fired back at the union's leadership pushing for his resignation on Friday night,” as he reiterated that he “wouldn’t resign and called for peers in the league to stand and fight with him,” according to Adrian Wojnarowski of YAHOO SPORTS. NBPA Exec Dir Billy Hunter has “rallied the eight-player executive committee to call for Fisher’s resignation,” but they “failed Friday in hopes of organizing a conference call among the league’s player representatives to call for Fisher’s ouster.” Fisher in an e-mail to players wrote: “Their demand for my resignation and their need to protect the NBPA management and their own best interests instead of protecting the players we were elected to serve is unfortunate.” He continued: “The allegations that are now being directed at me are defamatory. But I urge our members to order an independent review beginning immediately and that will be proven along with finding out definitively if there are any issues with the NBPA's business practices and finances.” Wojnarowski noted Fisher “has been hearing from players and teams offering support and encouragement.” The NBPA “issued a statement on Friday, explaining why Hunter and the executive committee want Fisher out as president.” The statement read in part: ''The executive committee based its decision on numerous instances over the past six months, where Fisher engaged in conduct detrimental to the union, including acting in contravention of the players' best interests during collective bargaining, declining to follow the NBPA Constitution, and failing to uphold the duties of the Union President.'' Hunter over the past several days “has launched an all-out assault through the eight-man executive committee to push out Fisher,” after Hunter last week “successfully thwarted an audit of the union’s business and financial practices that Fisher pitched to the executive committee.” Sources said that Hunter “had the union's executive committee vote to seek Fisher's resignation, but Fisher refused to step down and has been working to gather a coalition of players to challenge Hunter’s business and financial practices” (SPORTS.YAHOO.com, 4/20).
WHO'S ON DECK? ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith reported the Exec Committee wants to “bring in Chris Paul … as the new president.” Fisher “doesn’t want to walk away because he feels like his name has been smeared.” Still, union sources said that if Fisher “thinks he’s being smeared now, the worst is yet to come if he doesn’t walk away peacefully” (“SportsCenter,” ESPN, 4/21). Wizards G and NBPA VP Maurice Evans yesterday said that Paul “would have to be nominated and elected.” USA TODAY’s Jeff Zillgitt notes until that happens, Celtics G and Exec Committee VP Keyon Dooling “would be interim president” (USA TODAY, 4/23). Evans on Friday said, “It’s been a series of calls, starting last week with Derek trying to initiate a business review and audit of the union. But he did that without the consent of the board, and no one player, even the president, has more responsibility or power than the other players.” He added, “We don’t feel like he’s given Billy that proper respect. We welcomed him to a call where he could come and defend himself and whatever allegations he had or concerns for the union, we would address them at that time, because a lot of players had questions of him as well, and he refused to come on the call.” Evans continued, "During that call, all of us asked Billy about misappropriation of funds, about nepotism, strategy, lockout strategy, etc. … As far as the nepotism and the misallocation of funds and any other supposed, alleged questions, Billy answered those questions to our satisfaction, was very open and candid with us, and we were satisfied, and again, the players were disappointed because Derek has yet to address us, the players” (WASHINGTON EXAMINER, 4/21). But Lakers G Kobe Bryant said, "With Derek, if guys don't want him in there, there's really not much you can do about that. But every organization does an audit every now and then. I don't see anything wrong with doing an independent audit. It's not that big of a deal just to get it done" (LATIMES.com, 4/21).
LOOKING AT THE BIG PICTURE: SI.com’s Sam Amick wrote Fisher on Friday night “raised a fair question that he's hoping will be answered in the coming weeks: Why would he go to all this trouble … without a good reason?” Fisher: "If this was just about me, that's what I would do. I would just concentrate on basketball. But because this is bigger than me, this is bigger than any one person. It's really about all players and what's best for our guys, then I'm willing to take the hits and some of the scrutiny that will come with some of the decisions I make." Amick noted Fisher's allegations range from “misappropriation of funds to the way union decisions were handled during the lockout to Hunter being guilty of nepotism.” While Hunter's backers are “quick to point out that nepotism exists throughout the NBA, his critics see it as excessive in his case.” Hunter’s daughter, Robyn, and daughter-in-law, Megan Inaba, are “on the NBPA's staff, while his son, Todd, of Prim Capital Corp in Cleveland, has been retained to run the NBPA's Players Financial Awareness Program and his daughter, Alexis, was used as outside counsel during the lockout.” Amick wrote while Fisher and Hunter “had a falling out during the lockout that almost stayed quiet until the end, Fisher insists this isn't about them” (SI.com, 4/21).
LONG TIME COMING? CBSSPORTS.com’s Ken Berger cited sources as saying that “seeds for this rift were planted before the lockout even began,” as Fisher began to “suspect early last summer that something was rotten in Harlem, the home base of the NBPA.” Sources said that Fisher began to “ask questions about [the] union's finances and business dealings,” and he was “perhaps fueled by his own powers of deduction or helped along by the connecting of dots by operatives who have long been gunning” for Hunter. The “discomfort between Hunter and Fisher did not subside,” and through the “many, many months of torturous bargaining sessions ... the rift between Hunter and Fisher widened.” Berger noted Fisher's fellow committee members “believe he's gone rogue with a vendetta against Hunter, and one of them said Fisher has been at best an absentee president since the lockout ended.” Berger: “Whether Fisher is a brave whistle blower in the face of corruption or a player with an axe to grind whose power has been usurped by those who've been targeting Hunter for years should be left to those with real law degrees. … But I do know this: The players and their union have fallen into the very trap the owners have come to expect and relish” (CBSSPORTS.com, 4/21).
FIRST THINGS FIRST: In Oklahoma City, Darnell Mayberry wrote the Thunder is “now drawing attention for the wrong reasons” in the wake of Fisher's “budding battle” with the NBPA. The playoffs start in less than a week, and "rather than being able to concentrate on shoring up turnovers and rebounding, Fisher and his teammates are now being flooded with questions about the players association calling for Fisher's resignation as president.” The public spat between Fisher and the NBPA “couldn't have come at a worse time.” Mayberry wrote, "The question Thunder fans are, and should be, asking is how much will the infighting impact Fisher and the team?” Fisher said, “However much I let it. I'm still a basketball player. That's my profession. Even as president of the players association, we always respect the fact that we're players first” (OKLAHOMAN, 4/21).
The NHLPA already "has acknowledged informally its obligation to change the culture in hockey that allows, if not promotes, the predatory head-hunting that has damaged the opening weeks of the Stanley Cup playoffs and portions of the past few regular seasons," according to Larry Brooks of the N.Y. POST. Rangers C Brad Richards said Friday, "As players, we’ve already talked about our responsibility to become more involved in the entire issue, and that’s going to begin with talks about our responsibility to each other when we’re on the ice competing." Brooks noted it has "been a mystery why the NHLPA has acted more like legal aid in rushing to defend the perpetrators of malicious acts in supplementary discipline hearings instead of responding forcefully on behalf of the victims and, by extension, the greater good of the game." Richards said, "One of the union’s worries has always been that guys would get harsh suspensions for plays that were more accidental. But I think now with all the video we all have access to, you can pretty much determine intent." He added, "There’s no question that this issue is going to be an important one for the players in the talks with the league this summer and it’s going to be a major issue within our own group" (N.Y. POST, 4/22). In Boston, Kevin Paul Dupont wrote NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman and NHLPA Exec Dir Donald Fehr "are both very bright men and are both attorneys." Based on their "protracted inaction, their disquieting silence around all the violence, it’s clear they either don’t know good hockey from bad hockey, or they are perhaps paralyzed by their own lawyerhood." Dupont wrote, "I am left to wonder why they don’t say anything, why they lack the sense and conviction to put a halt to the horrifying downward spiral." Perhaps they are "surrounded by minions who won’t tell them the truth or shield them from the obvious: A game that allows wanton recklessness ultimately is headed to disaster or irrelevance." The NHL has "allowed violence to infect its product and its players, and for violence to become its marketing theme in arenas and on TV" (BOSTON GLOBE, 4/22).
TAKING A BEATING: In N.Y., Klein & Hackel note the NHL "may finally have found the will to curb the on-ice chaos that marked the start" of the playoffs. A string of statements "by top league officials indicated that the NHL front office was concerned about the parade of brawls, head shots, sucker punches, ambushes, slew footing and boarding." The "lingering image of the playoffs' first week was not that it was the best hockey of the year, but the most brutal" (N.Y. TIMES, 4/22). In West Palm Beach, Hal Habib wrote, "It's difficult to tell what's taking more of a beating: players dominating nightly highlights with their fists and hits, or the league for failing to stop it" (PALM BEACH POST, 4/21). However, in Ottawa, Mark Sutcliffe wrote, "There really is nothing new about the violence in this year's NHL playoffs. ... Violence, brawling, attempts to injure and cheap shots have always been front and centre in hockey" (OTTAWA CITIZEN, 4/22).
MLB and the players' union have informed teams and agents that they "no longer will approve personal-service deals and special 'milestone' bonus clauses similar to those contained" in 1B Albert Pujols' contract with the Angels, according to sources cited by Jayson Stark of ESPN.com. Both parties "agreed to the changes this month in the wake of Pujols' 10-year, $240 million contract" and 3B Ryan Zimmerman's six-year, $100M extension with the Nationals, which also "contains a personal-services option following his playing career." MLB Senior VP/Labor Relations Dan Halem said that the contracts for Pujols and Zimmerman, as well as the "milestone-bonus 'marketing' package in Alex Rodriguez's 2007 contract with the Yankees, won't be affected by the new rules." But Halem added that "no future contracts containing similar provisions will be allowed." MLB Exec VP/Labor Relations & HR Rob Manfred said that the two sides "began talking about implementing the new rules this past winter because of growing concerns." The "milestone" bonus in Pujols' deal "could pay him up to $10 million in 'marketing' payouts -- $3 million for his 3,000th hit, another $7 million if he breaks Barry Bonds' all-time home-run record." The league and the union have "agreed that bonuses such as those violate a provision in baseball's basic agreement that prohibits contract incentives based on virtually all statistical achievements" (ESPN.com, 4/20). Stark wrote, "The closer you hone in on this, the more obvious it becomes why these arrangements raised eyebrows." Personal-service deals "create different issues." It is "fine for a team to defer money in a whopper contract and pay it out later." But it "gets tricky if the team attaches a condition that says the player only gets that money if he shakes 500 hands a week, plays golf with 11 sponsors and spends a month in spring training." Because those payouts are "not regarded as guaranteed money, teams potentially could use them to avoid luxury-tax bills." Stark noted it has been more than four years since Rodriguez signed his contract with the Yankees, so "why did milestone clauses suddenly become a problem this year?" The "answer is that, after A-Rod, no one else negotiated a milestone bonus," and the "hope was that it would turn out to be just a one-time thing" (ESPN.com, 4/20).