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Volume 24 No. 156
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Tellem Suggests NBPA Bring In Independent Search Firm Should Billy Hunter Be Terminated

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.