All-Star Weekend is the NBA’s de facto annual convention, a mostly happy mix of basketball, brand-building, show biz, sponsorships and celebration, with a little bit of league business thrown in. Things figure to be a little more heavy this year, however, from the players’ side.
The National Basketball Players Association will be faced with serious questions about executive director Billy Hunter’s fitness to continue in his current position, based on reports Tuesday by the New York Times and Bloomberg News. They represent the latest challenges to Hunter’s performance, coming in the wake of the Jan. 17 release of an independent law firm’s findings. That report, commissioned by the players, was strongly critical of the executive director’s business practices.
In the Times’ piece, Arn Tellem, one of the NBA’s most powerful player agents, called for Hunter’s removal and urged that they take action at All-Star Weekend in Houston. The paper obtained a copy of Tellem’s letter to his players.
“N.B.A. players deserve better representation from the union they fund,” Tellem writes in the letter. “I implore you and your fellow players to take control of your union and your future. It’s time for Mr. Hunter to go.”
Tellem suggests that players should make that decision when the players association holds its annual All-Star meeting on the weekend of Feb. 15 to 17. That is also when the players will discuss the recent audit, by the law firm Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison. Representatives of the firm are expected to present the findings and answer questions.
In his letter, Tellem suggests that Hunter should not be allowed to attend that meeting to prevent him from any attempt “to intimidate and manipulate.” Tellem writes: “Hunter is betting that the players — historically passive — will let him slide. I hope you don’t. Clearly, Hunter has violated your trust.”
The Bloomberg story reported that Hunter dismissed family members from union roles after the Paul, Weiss report cited its findings of nepotism and conflict of interest The moves were disclosed in a Jan. 23 letter Hunter wrote to a special committee of players.
The New York-based union paid almost $4.8 million to Hunter’s family members and their professional firms since 2001, according to public records. Hunter makes $3 million a year as union chief.
“Hopefully this decision will alleviate any concerns raised by their employment,” Hunter wrote in the letter. “These measures are being taken although the report noted that both of them were highly qualified, not overpaid, and were contributing members of the NBPA staff.”
Robyn Hunter, the director’s daughter, ceased working at the union on Jan. 25, according to the letter. Megan Inaba, his daughter-in-law and director of special events and sponsorships, will leave on Feb. 17 after the National Basketball Association’s All-Star weekend.
Hunter, 70, also secured a letter of resignation from Prim Capital, which employs his son, Todd.
Hunter, through union spokesman Dan Wasserman, declined to comment on the letter or his family’s employment changes.
The independent report of two weeks ago focused on Hunter’s ethics and raised questions about the approval process for his current five-year contract as director, worth approximately $15 million. Tellem’s letter was highly critical of Hunter’s performance in leading NBA players through the 2011-12 lockout.
Tellem was one of six agents who, at the height of tensions during the dispute, called for the union to decertify, which would have removed him as a principal in the process. He resisted, only later accepting the players’ strategy to file a “disclaimer of interest” as a less strident – and perhaps less effective – alternative.
More from the Times story:
Tellem devotes a major portion of his letter to criticizing Hunter’s handling of the lockout, saying that the union chief was “tactically, strategically and logistically unprepared” and that Commissioner David Stern “outmaneuvered Mr. Hunter from the get-go.” The decision to reject decertification, Tellem writes, showed that Hunter was “more concerned with saving his job and salary than in making the best deal for the players.”
The procedure for firing Hunter is not entirely clear, although it would presumably begin with the 60 or so player representatives (two from each team). The union also has a nine-player executive board, but that board has seven vacancies because of the union’s failure to hold an election within the last year. An election is scheduled for All-Star weekend.
Last year at this time, parties on both sides – owners and players – were happy just to have salvaged a season that could include a 2012 All-Star Weekend. The 2013 edition figures to be a lot more work and a little more heated.