Suspended NBPA Exec Dir Billy Hunter has created a new blog designed to take "his case to the people,” according to Steve Aschburner of NBA.com. Hunter’s future with the NBPA “is expected to be decided at the union’s annual meeting Saturday at All-Star Weekend.” In the attempt to "leverage his way to an audience with the players," a team of attorneys Friday morning announced the new blog. The attorneys announced Hunter's new blog was "simply designed for two purposes.” The first is to “keep many of you updated on the status of Mr. Hunter’s position with the NBPA.” The second is to provide a “strong preliminary rebuttal to the Paul Weiss Report.” Aschburner notes Hunter in the report was “found to have employed family members, paying them and their professional firms" nearly $4.8M since '01. Friction between Hunter and NBPA President Derek Fisher “has its roots in the league’s 2011 lockout.” Fisher’s role “also is in question, if only because he currently is not an active NBA player.” Some players have "urged a sweep of the union’s hierarchy, including Hunter, Fisher and the executive committee.” A source said that the meeting Saturday, initially “scheduled for morning, has been moved to mid-day to accommodate players’ travel needs.” Aschburner notes anticipating "resistance to allowing him [to] counter the charges in person, Hunter’s ‘blog’ features links to a 21-page preliminary response, an executive summary and a PowerPoint presentation intended for the players” (NBA.com, 2/15). CBSSPORTS.com’s Ken Berger notes Hunter's legal team "believes the Paul Weiss report is rife with inaccuracies with respect to hiring, vacation payout, investment strategy and other business practices." Hunter’s attorney, Michael Carlinsky, said, "The report also does not cite to a single NBPA policy or rule that Mr. Hunter allegedly violated. The report can best be characterized as one law firm's judgment by hindsight with which we respectfully disagree." Hunter had “hoped to attend the players' meeting" Saturday, but he "wasn't invited” (CBSSPORTS.com, 2/15).
Leagues and Governing Bodies
Powerful NBA player agent and Wasserman Media Group Vice Chair Arn Tellem called for players to take time in finding a replacement NBPA player leaders vote to terminate Exec Dir Billy Hunter’s employment contract Saturday. WMG represents more than 50 NBA players, and Tellem was one of a group of seven so-called “power agents” who held meetings without Hunter during the '11 NBA lockout about decertifying the union, something Hunter initially opposed. Tellem already has sent a letter to WMG's player clients, urging them to fire Hunter. However, he said Thursday evening that the agents who met during the lockout have had no conversations about the future of the union.
Q: Have the agents who met during the lockout about decertification had any conversations about the current situation at the NBPA and what to do about it? What do you think is your role and the role of other agents regarding the NBPA going forward?
Tellem: I can't speak for the other agents. I haven't spoken with them. Ultimately the future of the NBPA is for the players to decide, but as their adviser, I will certainly offer my recommendations.
Q: What are your recommendations? If players vote to terminate Billy Hunter’s contract at the union meeting Saturday, how do you think the NBPA moves forward?
Tellem: The union would be prudent to bring in an independent executive search firm. But before this step is taken, the players need to come to grips with the fact that they have lacked effective leadership since the death of (Former NBPA Exec Dir) Larry Fleisher in 1989. They should also keep in mind that Fleisher’s successors have all been recommended by respected executive search firms. The problem is that the criteria for the post has never been fully delineated. Job descriptions should not be the province of executive search firms. I suggest the players consult a variety of experts for advice on how to spell out exactly what the job entails and how to attract the best candidates. The focus of these discussions should be to detail the purpose of the job, its accountabilities and responsibilities, the key tasks to be performed and the standards by which the next director’s performance can be appraised.
This position has no real parallels. An executive director basically must live in a fishbowl, always under intense scrutiny. A profound knowledge of labor law is, of course, essential. The director has to be masterful at internal politics, like an old congressional hand who is adept at mollifying fractious constituents. Most importantly, the union’s executive director must educate, unify and motivate the players -- qualities that, unfortunately, Billy does not possess. Billy never reached out to the players, never sought out their opinions, never explained what he was fighting for.
Q: There have been reports that (NHLPA Exec Dir) Don Fehr could take the job, and a source close to Fehr said that he is not interested in the job, but he would offer his counsel if he were asked. What do you think of that?
Tellem: The only union in sports worth emulating is the Major League Baseball Players Association, which, since its founding 47 years ago, has only had three executive directors: Marvin Miller, Don Fehr and Mike Weiner. No labor leaders could offer better counsel than Fehr and Weiner, both of whom have devoted their careers to standing up for athletes. Fehr and Weiner would be exceedingly valuable resources for the union. They know better than any individual or executive search firm precisely what the players should be looking for.
Q: How long do you think a search for a new executive director should take?
Tellem: The search for a new director need not be quick, nor should it be a popularity contest. To make the best possible choice, patience is required. Ideally, the process would extend through the summer so that the candidate or candidates can meet with key players during the offseason. To do less than this -- to speed the process unwisely -- might only compound the current problem. Considering that a long-time labor agreement is already in place, whoever is hired must protect labor rights while working with (NBA Deputy Commissioner & COO) Adam Silver and the league to grow revenue.
Q: Who should run the NBPA in the meantime?
Tellem: After many months of internal turmoil, stability will be the key during any transition. (Union counsel and interim Exec Dir) Ron Klempner has been with the union a long time. He's quite capable of running things smoothly until a new executive director is found. I’m confident that he will look out for and protect the interests of the players.
Q: What about the other union positions?
Tellem: The union needs a clean sweep of executive leadership positions. The players would be wise to hire an outside general counsel, one not affiliated with either Billy or (NBPA President) Derek Fisher. He or she should be independent and impartial. Jim Quinn of Weil, Gotshal & Manges in New York is worthy of consideration. So is his law partner, Bruce Meyer. Jim’s proficiency in sports-related labor law dates to Oscar Robertson’s landmark 1970 anti-trust case. During the last lockout, both Quinn and Meyer were enlisted by the union to mediate a deal with (NBA Commissioner) David Stern.
A decision on whether NHL players will "head to the 2014 Sochi Olympics isn't likely this week, but a first day of discussions" between the league, NHLPA, IIHF and IOC on Thursday "went well," according to Ira Podell of the AP. There are "obstacles in the process, but the sides will get back together on Friday to talk." While a "final decision isn't required this week, one will have to be reached in the near future." It is "believed hockey federations will need to know by May what players will be available for their teams." After "enduring a long lockout that produced a shortened regular season this year, the NHL is weighing whether it is worth shutting down the game for more than two weeks next season to allow its players to go to Russia" (AP, 2/14). REUTERS' Steve Keating wrote it is believed that NHL execs "wants to be treated more like a rights holder or an Olympic top sponsor such as McDonald’s, able to trade on the Olympic brand to help sell and promote their product the same way the fast food chain uses its sponsorship to sell hamburgers." Meanwhile, the IOC is "approaching the talks with considerable caution, keenly aware that giving into any NHL demands would leave them on a slippery slope" with the NBA and other sports "looking on with interest." During the '12 London Games, track and field athletes "created a stir with their demands for a slice of the IOC revenue pie and the ability to make money from their Olympic participation." Coming out of a "four month lockout that alienated fans and reduced the NHL season to 48 games, the league is under pressure to repair its damaged image." The IOC is "sure to have an ally in NBC, which paid billions for the U.S. broadcast rights to the Sochi Games and could exert pressure on the NHL to get players to Russia after inking" a 10-year $2B television deal with the league in '11 (REUTERS, 2/14).
GETTING SUPPORT: Lightning VP & GM Steve Yzerman said, "It's the biggest stage in the world to market our players. The Olympics is one time the world is watching, and I believe we want our players there because they are the best in the world" (TAMPA BAY TIMES, 2/15). Flyers RW Jakub Voracek said, "I don't know why it's even a discussion why we shouldn't go to the Olympics. I could see if it was every year, but it's only every 4 years. I don't know why they couldn't work out the schedule right now. For most of us players, it's a dream come true to be an Olympian for your home country. I would be pretty sad if we couldn't." Flyers D Kimmo Timonen added, "Not just thinking about myself, it's good for hockey. Hockeywise, it's great, full rinks and people love hockey. As a player, if we can go there, I'm happy to do it." Flyers RW Claude Giroux said, "Obviously, it would be hard on your body, but you don't think twice about it" (PHILADELPHIA DAILY NEWS, 2/15). Canucks G Corey Schneider said, "I think the fans want to see that. I think the players realistically would want to go do that. It's a once-in-a-lifetime experience, and I think we'd all be in favor of it." However, the AP's Dan Gelston wrote NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman has "plenty of reasons to keep the NHL home next winter" (AP, 2/13).
ON THE FLIP SIDE...: Capitals coach Adam Oates wonders, "How do you feel if one of your players goes over and gets hurt?" In DC, Stephen Whyno notes while Oates "understands the value of Olympic participation to the promotion of hockey, he doesn’t believe NHL players belong there." Oates: "Is it good for hockey that they do it? Great. But I grew up trying to play for the Toronto Maple Leafs, not Team Canada. Didn’t even know it existed" (WASHINGTON TIMES, 2/15).
ON HOLD: In N.Y., Jeff Klein noted planning for the U.S. Olympic men’s hockey team is "on hold until the NHL decides whether to send its players to the Sochi Games." USA Hockey Assistant Exec Dir of Hockey Operations Jim Johannson said that a GM and coach for the men's Olympic team "would be named after the Stanley Cup playoffs conclude at the end of June." But, he added that USA Hockey would "wait until the NHL made a decision 'before we make any moves along that line'" (NYTIMES.com, 2/14).
NFLPA Exec Dir DeMaurice Smith on Wednesday addressed the perception that his organization is not as strong as the MLBPA during a conversation with ESPN's Dan Le Batard. Asked how he responds when NFL players ask him why the MLBPA is "so much stronger than our union," Smith said, "I ask them why do they think so." He said, "You look at where we came from at the beginning of this lockout in 2009, and [the] facts are clear: the league wanted us to play 18 games, they wanted to take away the players' defined benefit plan, they wanted a strict rookie wage scale. Those three things were things that the league had prepared for for years. When we got through the lockout, we ended up with a larger share of revenue than we’ve ever had in the history of the National Football League. We certainly aren’t playing 18 games and every one of our players kept their pensions.” Smith said the “best part of this job is you get to know the young men behind the helmet." Smith: "While I may not rise and fall on how a game ends, the great part of this job is really knowing the young men as family men, good husbands, good sons, good brothers, and that part’s cool” (“Dan Le Batard Is Highly Questionable,” ESPN2, 2/13).
USA TODAY's Nate Ryan reports NASCAR is "encouraging Sprint Cup drivers to undergo baseline concussion testing and likely will make it mandatory for the 2014 season." NASCAR Senior Dir of Communications for Competition Kerry Tharp on Thursday said that NASCAR had been "providing information during competitors' annual preseason physicals about the imPACT test." The 30-minute computerized test is "mandatory" in IndyCar but "hasn't been required in NASCAR" (USA TODAY, 2/15).
A NEW KIND OF SIN: In Las Vegas, Steve Carp writes it is "hard to blame MLS for being cautious about" adding a team in the city, despite the area's "population of close to 2 million, diverse ethnic makeup that embraces the game and a rising TV and radio market that still trails any MLS city." The "lack of a suitable soccer-specific facility might be the biggest obstacle to putting a team in Southern Nevada." Carp notes of the "19 MLS franchises, 15 play in soccer-specific stadiums." Friday's preseason match between the Rapids and Chivas USA at Sam Boyd Stadium "will be played on grass," and organizers would be "happy with a crowd of 7,000 to 8,000" (LAS VEGAS REVIEW-JOURNAL, 2/15).
RESPECT SHE DESERVES? Golf Channel's Gary Williams said 15-year-old Lydia Ko is the "buzz of social media" after she became the youngest winner ever on the Ladies European Tour last week. Golf Channel's Damon Hack said if Ko were a 15-year-old boy "winning professional golf tournaments, it would be the story of golf." Williams said Ko is "not getting the kind of attention that maybe she would" because she is "not American" and she is female. Williams: "If she were American we'd be falling all over ourselves to talk about her at great lengths" ("Morning Drive," Golf Channel, 2/14).
ON THE STARTING GRID: In Indianapolis, Curt Cavin wrote barring a "surprise, the IndyCar Series will have 25 full-time car-and-driver combinations for the season that begins next month." There are the "23 confirmed entries plus two yet-to-be solidified programs from Dale Coyne Racing" (INDYSTAR.com, 2/14).