SBJ/May 13-19, 2013/Labor and Agents

Progress slow on new NBPA chief

It took just one short meeting to oust Billy Hunter as executive director of the National Basketball Players Association. Finding a new union leader is proving to be a far more drawn-out effort.

The union has yet to hire an executive search firm to replace Hunter, who was fired in February. And while NBPA player leaders have been reviewing a list of search firms to oversee the process, the union recently sent a memo to some players saying it intended to push back its annual meeting from its traditional June date to August or September, sources said.

That could be a pivotal meeting in the process for finding a successor to Hunter.

The memo also asked players for their input on whether the meeting should be held in Las Vegas or in the Bahamas, said the sources, who requested anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly on union business. Union officials were seeking opinions on the site in part so that as many players could attend as possible. The meetings in recent years have been held in both the Bahamas and in Las Vegas.

NBPA officials declined to comment for this story. In February, the union said it would undertake a comprehensive and transparent process to name a new executive director but did not provide a time frame for making a decision (SportsBusiness Journal, Feb. 25-March 3 issue).

The time frames and processes used for selecting new executive directors at other sports unions have varied. When the NFL Players Association lost its longtime leader Gene Upshaw after he died unexpectedly in August 2008, that union hired a search firm in October 2008, and DeMaurice Smith was elected executive director in March 2009. When Paul Kelly was fired as executive director of the NHL Players’ Association in August 2009, the players subsequently asked Don Fehr, who had just retired as MLB Players Association executive director, to advise them on finding a successor. Fehr ultimately was elected NHLPA executive director in December 2010, after players convinced him to take the position following a long process that included Fehr meeting with NHL players across North America and Europe.
 
The NBPA player leaders voted unanimously to terminate Hunter’s contract Feb. 16 and since then have been holding sporadic conference calls, though the meetings have slowed down in recent weeks because a number of the members of the executive committee are playing on teams in the playoffs.

Ron Klempner, NBPA deputy general counsel, has been acting executive director since Hunter’s departure.

Some NBA agents are grumbling at the lack of progress. “Nothing is going on, that’s what’s going on,” said one prominent agent.

The absence of a search firm, however, hasn’t stopped people in the industry from floating names. The latest name to surface is Charlotte Bobcats President and COO Fred Whitfield, a Michael Jordan confidant who also worked for Jordan Brand and as an agent for David Falk’s FAME agency.

Whitfield confirmed he has been approached but refused to disclose specifics.

“A couple of people have mentioned to me I potentially might be a good candidate for this role, but no one has mentioned it to me in an official way,” he said.

Whitfield would not say who spoke to him, nor would he comment further on the issue.

Other names of potential candidates for the NBPA top job that have been mentioned are Steve Mills, former Madison Square Garden Sports president and chief operating officer; and Fehr, of the NHLPA. Sources close to Fehr have said he plans to remain in his job at the NHLPA.

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