SBD/February 18, 2013/Leagues and Governing Bodies

NBPA Exec Dir Billy Hunter Ousted From Role Following Unanimous Vote

Hunter in a statement hinted at a probable legal challenge to the move
NBPA player reps on Saturday voted unanimously to terminate the contract of Exec Dir Billy Hunter in the wake of a report that he placed his interests above those of players. In a short press conference after a meeting in Houston, NBPA President Derek Fisher said, "Today for the NBPA was a day of change. ... We want to make it clear that we are here to serve only the best interests of the players. No threats, no lies, no distractions will stop us from serving our membership." Fisher announced that he would remain as president and Spurs F Matt Bonner would remain as VP. Heat G James Jones now is secretary-treasurer and Nets G Jerry Stackhouse was elected first VP (Liz Mullen, Staff Writer). YAHOO SPORTS' Adrian Wojnarowski cited sources as saying that player reps "voted 24-0 in favor of ending Hunter's stay with the union." Six teams "weren't represented at the meeting" (SPORTS.YAHOO.com, 2/16). Hunter in a statement "denounced this 'extremely troubling process' and hinted at a probable legal challenge" (N.Y. TIMES, 2/17).

JAMES AND STACKHOUSE PLAY KEY ROLE: USA TODAY's Jeff Zillgitt wrote Hunter's reign came to an "inglorious end Saturday" after about 15 agents on Saturday morning "met with union officials, including Fisher, acting executive director Ron Klempner and attorneys from the law firm Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison." The law firm "updated agents on the state of its inquiry and answered questions." The players "met shortly after that and made their decision" (USATODAY.com, 2/16). In the players meeting, one source said Heat F LeBron James "really stepped up, led the charge. His voice was heard. It was great, and it was important" (SPORTS.YAHOO.com, 2/16). In N.Y., Howard Beck wrote Hunter was fired "with a bold, decisive vote and a public rebuke." Sources said that James and Nets G Jerry Stackhouse were "the two most forceful voices in the room," and they "rallied the players to make the change." Sources added James and Stackhouse "literally drove the discussions." James following last night's All-Star Game said, "Our current state as of yesterday wasn’t in the best possible position we can be in. And that’s why Billy Hunter’s duties was relieved. And now we feel comfortable with where we’re at right now. But we got a long way to go." Beck writes for years, the league's "brightest stars have eschewed any sort of responsibility for managing their union." This "emphatic, principled stand by James on Saturday was a rare exception to the rule, and it mattered greatly." Sources said James "practically cross-examined" lawyers from Paul, Weiss, which prepared an audit on Hunter's time as head of the union. The players at the meeting "demanded explanations from the committee members who previously sided with Hunter over Fisher." A source said, "It was spectacular" (N.Y. TIMES, 2/18). Cavaliers G and player rep Daniel Gibson said, "It was much needed. A lot of players, including myself, were very vocal that things needed to be done from top to bottom" (Cleveland PLAIN DEALER, 2/17).

THE FALL OF HUNTER: In Boston, Gary Washburn wrote the ouster was "expected" and what "many players felt was a necessary move." The removal of Hunter is "yet another chapter in what has become a melodrama in a union plagued by infighting" (BOSTON GLOBE, 2/16). The AP's Brian Mahoney wrote it is a "swift fall for the 70-year-old Hunter, a former athlete who was well-respected by many players." But agents "didn’t like him, questioning his bargaining strategies and frustrated they didn’t have a bigger role in his union" (AP, 2/16). TRUE HOOPS' Henry Abbott wrote Hunter's parting "might be the biggest story in the NBA today, and nobody will talk about it, chiefly because there are too many teams of lawyers working on this to count right now, and they're all keeping their options open." Anything anybody says has "a fair chance of coming up in one legal proceeding or another" (ESPN.com, 2/16). The WALL STREET JOURNAL's Chris Herring wrote the decision ended an "ugly, headline-grabbing standoff" between Hunter and the union (WSJ.com, 2/16). ESPN’s Bob Ley said firing Hunter was the “final act of a bitter and prolonged fight between Hunter and a growing segment of player reps and union officers.” ESPN's Stephen A. Smith said of Hunter, "Clearly, it appears he was guilty of nepotism … but it was cited that he did absolutely nothing illegal.” The players “do not want Billy Hunter. It would actually be completely foolish for him to fight it” (“SportsCenter,” ESPN, 2/17).

HUNTER VOWS TO FIGHT: In Toronto, Doug Smith noted Hunter still is owed about US$10M on his contract and "his lawyers have established a website and blog for him to make his defence public." Hunter in a statement said his dismissal was "preordained." Hunter: "The legal team and I will begin . . . reviewing the actions taken and statements made against me in the meeting room in my absence" (TORONTO STAR, 2/17). NBA TV's David Aldridge noted Hunter's dismissal “could get ugly,” as he and his legal team have “not taken litigation off the table.” Aldridge: “They believe that the contract is valid … and that the union cannot unilaterally, in their view, get rid of the contract.” NBA TV’s Vince Cellini: “Billy Hunter is not going to go quietly regarding this decision” (“NBA Gametime,” NBA TV, 2/17). ESPN's Smith said, "He's definitely going to fight this because it's a matter of integrity here" ("SportsCenter," ESPN, 2/17).

WHAT'S NEXT? NBA agent David Falk said that he "does not want the job, even if it's offered." Falk: "I think the single most important issue is a person who's got the vision and the talent to work with the league to grow the league from roughly $5 billion to $10 billion. So when I hear some of the names being bandied about -- former agents or former players -- that's not remotely what the players need right now. The players need almost a corporate executive who got hired to increase the sales of a company, who can come in and work with the league to exploit new income streams, whether it's in digital media or whatever, new technology" (USA TODAY, 2/18). 
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