NBA players union ousts executive director
NBA players vote unanimously to dismiss Billy Hunter after 17 years as union head. Action follows a critical review of Hunter's leadership of the NBA union.
HOUSTON — Billy Hunter was ousted from his job as executive director of the union in a unanimous vote by NBA players who said Saturday they will "no longer be divided, misled, misinformed."
"This is our union and we have taken it back," players' association president Derek Fisher said.
Fisher said it was a day of change for the union, which has seemed inevitable since a review of the union last month was critical of Hunter's leadership and urged players to consider whether they wanted to keep him.
"We want to make it clear that we are here to serve only the best interests of the players," Fisher said. "No threats, no lies, no distractions will stop us from serving our memberships."
Hunter said in a statement that he hadn't received word of his dismissal and blasted the interim executive committee for the process it followed, saying "certain individuals made sure the outcome was pre-ordained."
"In addition, given the legitimate legal and governance questions surrounding the eligibility of the members who voted and the adherence, or lack thereof, to the constitution and bylaws, I do not consider today's vote the end, only a different beginning," Hunter said. "My legal representatives and I will resume communication with the NBPA to determine how to best move forward in the best interests of all parties."
In brief remarks, Fisher said a new executive committee was elected and he will remain as president. The Spurs' Matt Bonner is vice president, Miami's James Jones is secretary-treasurer and the Nets' Jerry Stackhouse the first vice president. The Clippers' Chris Paul, Golden State's Stephen Curry, Denver's Andre Iguodala, the Hornets' Roger Mason, Jr. and the Clippers' Willie Green are vice presidents.
Hunter had led the union since 1996, guiding the players through three collective bargaining agreements and helping bring their average salaries to more than $5 million, highest in team sports. But Fisher pushed for the review after a falling out between the two leaders, and though it found Hunter wasn't guilty of any criminal activity involving union funds, it cited a number of conflicts of interests and poor choices that led the players to remove him.
Commissioner David Stern was aware of the union's actions but had little comment.
"We await notification from the union as to who we should be dealing with because it has been a principle of faith with us that we will deal with whomever the union tells us to deal with," Stern said.
Released in January, the review conducted by the law firm Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison LLP criticized Hunter for hiring family members and friends. It said he knew his 2010 contract extension wasn't properly ratified by union rules, and raised questions about everything from travel expenses to the amount he spent on gifts.
Players acted quickly, putting Hunter on a leave of absence on Feb. 1. He hoped to be invited to Saturday's annual meeting, which included about 35 players, superstar LeBron James among them.
But Hunter's attorneys said their client was told he wouldn't be welcomed. They said his contract was legal and indicated there could be a lawsuit if the players removed him and attempted to withhold the more than $10 million that remains on his salary.
"We do not doubt that this process will possibly continue in an ugly way," said Fisher, who then reminded reporters that there are three ongoing government investigations into Hunter, likely the reason he didn't take questions after his remarks.
It's a swift fall for the 70-year-old Hunter, a former athlete who was well-respected by many players. But agents didn't like him, questioning his bargaining strategies and frustrated they didn't have a bigger role in his union.
Hunter's family did, and that was another central issue of the report. He had since fired his daughter and daughter-in-law, and cut ties with a financial institution that employed his son. He also instituted an anti-nepotism policy at the NPBA.
"After 17 years of representing NBA players during CBA negotiations and defending their rights in other proceedings, not once was there an occasion where one side was denied an opportunity to be heard," Hunter said. "The current interim regime in control of the NBPA has set a terrible precedent for the union. It violates every tenet of fairness upon which the union was founded. Now that this has occurred, I will continue to examine all of my options, including whether the fairness that was absent from the NBPA process might be available in a different forum."
Fisher, Paul, Bonner, Mason and Jones were holdovers from the previous executive committee. Stackhouse, who along with James was vocal during the meeting, joins Iguodala, Curry and Green among the newcomers.
Fisher and Hunter clashed during the 2011 lockout and their fractured relationship divided the union. Hunter originally persuaded the executive committee to vote to request Fisher's resignation last year. Fisher did not resign and instead pushed for the outside review, which lasted more than eight months and cost the union more than $4 million.
The law firm reviewed NBPA documents and emails, and interviewed more than three dozen witnesses. It found that Hunter spent more than $100,000 on gifts for executive committee members — including a watch worth more than $20,000 for Fisher before their falling out — and accepted a payout of $1.3 million for unused vacation time when records made it unclear how his time off was kept.
Fisher remains president even though he isn't on an NBA roster, having asked the Dallas Mavericks for his release after a brief stint earlier this season. He gave no update on what would happen to the executive director position. Union attorney Ron Klempner was appointed to the position on an interim basis when Hunter was placed on leave.