HANG TIME SOUTHWEST — Time appears to be running out on Billy Hunter.
The National Basketball Players Association has accused their executive director of the greatest sin — forgetting his lone task to serve the best interests of membership. On Friday, the NBA Executive Committee put Hunter on indefinite leave of absence.
That decision was announced in a news release in which NBPA president Derek Fisher said that “immediate change is necessary.”
Hunter has been embroiled in controversy since the end of the lockout. But the heat’s been raised in particular over the last couple weeks since an independent law firm’s unsavory findings raised a number of ethical issues, including whether Hunter’s multi-million-dollar contract did not have proper approval from the players representatives, and widespread nepotism.
In the last few weeks, Hunter has scrambled to save his job, including firing family members that he hired to work for the union.
Ron Klempner, currently serving as NBPA Deputy General Counsel, will be appointed Acting Executive Director until further decisions can be made. The executive committee has formed two new committees, the Interim Executive Committee and Advisory Committee, to move the organization forward.
Fisher released this statement:
Unfortunately, it appears that Union management has lost sight of the NBPA’s only task, to serve the best interests of their membership. This is the reason I called for a review almost a year ago. The findings of that review confirm this unfortunate truth and we must now move forward as Players. Immediate change is necessary and I, along with the Committee Members, are committed to driving the process as difficult as it may be. We ask for the cooperation, trust and patience of the Players, their representatives and some of our hard working NBPA staff as we navigate through this situation. But rest assured that our goal is to do what is right for the Players and we will emerge stronger than before.
The eight-month review by the firm Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison LLP urged players to consider whether they want to keep Hunter as the union’s executive director when they meet in two weeks in Houston during the All-Star break.
By putting Hunter on a leave of absence now, he will be unable to address the NBPA membership when it gathers in Houston.
The report found no evidence of illegal use of union funds, but it did reveal that Hunter withheld knowledge that his contract was never properly approved by player representatives, that he used poor judgment with his hiring practices to award jobs to family members and that he spent improperly on travel and gifts.
Hunter, 70, took over the top position with the NBPA in 1996.
In as little as two weeks from now, he could be out, which certainly seems to be the direction this is headed.
At that point, what would be next for Hunter? Could he face jail time in the wake of ongoing criminal and civil investigations by the U.S. Department of Labor and U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York?
Again, the independent law firm review suggested Hunter did nothing illegal, but stated: “No matter the explanation, when viewed collectively, his choices created the appearance that he operated the union in part for the benefit of his family and friends. The appearance of favoritism has damaged the union. Mr. Hunter’s pattern of involving friends and family in union business contributed to a deep rift among the NBPA staff.”
The report found:
- Hunter hired his daughter and nephew, permitted a daughter-in-law to remain on staff, and spent more than $80,000 of union funds to evaluate an investment in a banking firm that employed his son
- Hunter also spent more than $100,000 of union funds to purchase gifts for executive committee members, including a $22,000 watch for Fisher in June 2010, and that he made “questionable choices” when charging travel expenses to the NBPA
At the very least, it appears Hunter will be looking for a new job and the NBPA will have a new person in charge down the road when the next round of collective bargaining agreement negotiations heat up.