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Volume 21 No. 1
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NBPA wish list: Experience, passion

The National Basketball Players Association is looking for an executive with an understanding of labor law, marketing and licensing and with a passion for basketball as its next leader.

Those are among the attributes listed in an eight-page job specification written by executive search firm Reilly Partners, which was hired last month to assist the players union in the search for a new executive director to replace Billy Hunter, who was terminated in February.

NBPA President Chris Paul cited Reilly Partners’ experience with other sports unions.
This is a familiar assignment for Chicago-based Reilly Partners, which worked in the past for the NFLPA and NHLPA as it searched for its top executive. That familiarity is evident in the job outline, as it is, in many ways, similar to one it wrote for the NFLPA five years ago. In fact, some of the wording is exactly the same.

“The successful candidate should be a visionary leader and a strategic thinker with proven operational and organizational skills,” state both the NFLPA and NBPA job specs. Both require candidates to have a bachelor’s degree, while “attainment of advanced degree in law, business administration, or another related field [is] preferred.”

Chicago-based Reilly Partners assisted the NHLPA in 2007 in the search that resulted in Paul Kelly’s election as executive director, as well as the search that resulted in DeMaurice Smith’s election as NFLPA executive director in 2009. Attempts to obtain the NHLPA job specification document were unsuccessful.

Reilly Partners declined to comment for this story.

Both NBPA President Chris Paul and Ron Klempner, NBPA acting executive director, cited Reilly Partners’ experience in working with other sports unions as one reason the firm was selected.

“They hit the ground running,” Klempner said. “We felt it was important to have a firm with a labor mindset.”

However, there are differences between the job specs for the open NBPA position and the NFLPA post, including a more detailed description that looks to avoid some of the issues that affected Hunter, who was fired after a report found that he failed to put the interests of the union above his own interests and did not properly manage conflicts of interest, among other things.

Some of the specific details in the job spec:

Work with the executive committee and player representatives to develop and execute organizational goals; strategic plans; policies and procedures; sound financial management and practices; and potential partnerships.

Manage outside counsel, experts, and consultants in a timely and efficient manner.

And while the NFLPA’s job spec did not list any requirements relating to the NFL or football, the NBPA document states one of the personal attributes it is looking for in a candidate is “Passion: For the sport of basketball and as a representative for the players.”

Cathy Griffin, CEO of the Griffin Network, an executive search and coaching firm specializing in the sport and entertainment industries, said details in the job spec make it clear that NBPA leaders had a lot of input into the outline. As far as the similarities between other executive director posts, Griffin said, “It is not unusual for a search firm to use a similar job spec from a previous search to draft a new spec for a similar position.”