Report Exonerates NBPA's Hunter Of Criminal Wrongdoing, But Position Still In Jeopardy
An independent inquiry of NBPA practices released on Thursday revealed Exec Dir Billy Hunter "did not engage in criminal acts involving embezzlement or theft of union funds," however, the "evidence paints an unflattering picture of Hunter and some of his practices," according to Jeff Zillgitt of USA TODAY. The inquiry was conducted by Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison LLP "at the request of the union." The "most disconcerting details" involve how Hunter procured his $3M-per-year contract in '10 with help from now-deceased friend and NBPA Counsel Gary Hall. It also shows "how the union failed to comply with its bylaws in approving it, and, when notified that the contract approval did not meet bylaws, how Hunter did nothing to rectify the problem." The report stated, "In our judgment, the facts do show that at times Mr. Hunter's actions were inconsistent with his fiduciary obligations to put the interests of the union above his personal interests. Further, Mr. Hunter did not properly manage conflicts of interest." The investigations "stem from a fallout" between Hunter and NBPA President Derek Fisher. Zillgitt writes All-Star Weekend in Houston "becomes more serious now," as the report "recommended that player representatives and the executive committee focus on Hunter's future with the NBPA" (USA TODAY, 1/18).
HUNTER BECOMES THE HUNTED: In N.Y., Ken Belson reports the investigation also "found that Hunter made decisions that 'call into question his stewardship of union resources' when he invested millions of dollars in a failing bank without disclosing that his son, Todd, was a director." Hunter also "pursued 'speculative' business ventures; bought luxury gifts with union funds, including a $22,000 watch" that he gave to Fisher. He additionally "spent about $28,000 on personal legal fees" for former National Basketball Retired Players Association exec Charles Smith. Hunter said that the union had "begun implementing a new anti-nepotism policy." Hunter: "Through the benefit of hindsight, as with any executive, there are always things that could have been done better. But on the major issue, I am pleased that this report has confirmed what I have always known and said, I did nothing illegal." The findings of the investigation "largely vindicate Fisher, a 17-year NBA veteran who was central in representing the union during the five-month lockout in 2011" (N.Y. TIMES, 1/18).
BEGINNING OF THE END? YAHOO SPORTS' Adrian Wojnarowski wrote the possible violation of the NBPA's constitution "raises questions about the legitimacy of Hunter's contract and his future." Sources said that Hunter signed his contract at an NBPA exec committee meeting in June '10, but he and Hall "never brought the deal to a vote of the 30 team player representatives for approval." Three player reps at the team rep meeting on June 24 said that the issue of Hunter's contract was "never brought for a vote -- nor its existence ever broached" (SPORTS.YAHOO.com, 1/17). Wojnarowski wrote, "Several prominent player agents reacted to the revelations on Hunter's unapproved contract and the findings of the Paul-Weiss report with a renewed effort to oust Hunter" (SPORTS.YAHOO.com, 1/17).
RISKY BUSINESS: CBSSPORTS.com's Ken Berger wrote under the header, "The Evidence Speaks For Itself: Union Head Hunter Has To Go." In a report that "could not have been more scathing, more detailed, more forthright, more astonishing, it is apparent beyond a shadow of a doubt that Hunter's 16-year reign ... should be over." While the union's "numerous business entanglements with Hunter's family members was not even the headline in this exhaustive report, the probe found that the practice extended beyond family members to what it called 'cronyism' involving numerous Hunter friends." The report at times "reads like it has to be fiction, like the script of an Oliver Stone movie." There were "signs Thursday of an awakening among the union membership." One player who reviewed the report said, "It speaks for itself" (CBSSPORTS.com, 1/17).