Posts Tagged ‘Billy Hunter’

Players’ union may name Hunter’s replacement at Las Vegas meetings

The NBA players association’s 18-month search for a permanent executive director could come to an end next week in Las Vegas when members of the NBPA executive committee and other union reps meet with finalists for the position.

As part of the union’s annual summer meetings, the hiring of a replacement for Billy Hunter, ousted at All-Star Weekend in Houston in February 2013 amid allegations of allegations of conflicts of interest and mismanagement, looms as the biggest likely headline. Chris Paul, point guard of the Los Angeles Clippers, was elected NBPA president at last year’s meetings in August after a four-year run as one of several vice presidents.

An executive search overseen by Sacramento Mayor (and former NBA All-Star) Kevin Johnson and conducted by Chicago-based Reilly Partners was in the final stages of winnowing a list of 18 to 20 candidates down to a trio of finalists, league sources told NBA.com. The three candidates will be presented on Monday afternoon, one insider specified, with each scheduled for 45-minute sessions to give their visions and qualifications to the members. Deliberation would take place that evening, with a vote tentatively scheduled for 8 p.m. PDT.

Johnson, who in his most recent NBA incarnation helped broker the deal for his city to keep the Sacramento Kings and thwarting a potential sale and move to Seattle, was enlisted in April to assist in the NBPA search. In May, Johnson met with players and agents in Chicago, synched up to the pre-draft camp held in that city, to update them on the search’s progress.

Prior to Johnson’s involvement, the NBPA had moved slowly in the process. Despite the presence of deputy general counsel Ron Klempner as the acting executive director, the NBA had cited several matters on which it was awaiting Hunter’s permanent replacement, including the possible implementation of testing for human growth hormone (HGH) use.

By All-Star Weekend in New Orleans last February, two leading candidates had emerged: David White, an executive with the Screen Actors Guild, and Michele Roberts, a corporate lawyer from New York.

But more recently, two more names – New York Knicks GM Steve Mills and powerful NBA agent Arn Tellem – have surfaced. Last weekend, longtime basketball writer Peter Vecsey speculated on both men via Twitter, pivoting to Tellem by Monday based on word that Knicks boss Phil Jackson is happy with his working relationship with Mills:

Tellem, 60, is considered to be one of the most influential sports agent in the world. He serves as Vice Chairman on the Wasserman Media Group and, according to his biography on that firm’s Web site, has negotiated NBA and MLB contracts worth more than $3.5 billion since 2008. The basketball site Hoopshype.com ranks Tellem first among NBA agents with a stable of 35 clients and contracts totaling nearly $273 million.

It was Tellem who, in January 2013, wrote a letter to his players calling for Hunter’s firing. He was among a group of powerful agents during the 2011 lockout who called for the union to decertify, which would have removed Hunter from his position then while providing new leverage toward a resolution.

If Tellem is among the NBPA search’s finalists, his client relationships could be an issue for players who haven’t used his services. As one former NBA player knowledgeable in union business put it, “With all of his players and all of his friends who are agents, all those relationships you have, how do you make decisions and judgments in an unbiased way?”

The ex-player added: “Arn is a great negotiator, without a doubt. It would be interesting to see him across the table from Adam Silver in 2016.”

The current collective bargaining agreement between the players and the owners can be re-opened by either side after the 2016-17 season, with talks for a new deal presumably beginning sometime late in 2016. The next round of labor talks will be Silver’s first as NBA commissioner, though he was heavily involved and influential as David Stern‘s deputy during previous negotiations.

In other NBPA news, Bloomberg.com reported this week that the union spent about $5.42 million on the internal audit that resulted in Hunter’s dismissal. That amounts to $12,378 per each of the 438 members, compared to $10,000 annual dues.

NBPA’s Director Search Still In Process Stage

NEW ORLEANS – There were no figurative puffs of white smoke from the hotel ballroom where the NBA player-reps met Saturday. No resolution, then, to the union’s search to replace Billy Hunter – deposed a year ago at All-Star Weekend – as its executive director.

In contrast to that notable session in Houston last February, at which Hunter was fired amid conflict-of-interest and nepotism allegations, this year’s annual All-Star meeting was all about process. A process that is grinding on, with leadership of the National Basketball Players Association determined not to make a mistake.

Union president Chris Paul of the Los Angeles Clippers informed reporters after the two-hour meeting that candidates for the job met Saturday with 30 player reps, along with interested All-Stars LaMarcus Aldridge and Carmelo Anthony. Those who attended were filled in on the step-by-step procedure, from the search to identify the top prospects to the next step of disbursing a DVD of the meeting so the rank-and-file players can be briefed as well.

But the NBPA officers weren’t willing to provide candidates’ names, or their number, or any timeline for getting someone hired.

“To protect the integrity of the process and the privacy of our candidates,” Paul said before leaving with an All-Star obligation and turning the news conference over to first vice president Roger Mason Jr. and secretary-treasurer James Jones.

Mason said that more than 200 candidates were identified by Reilly Partners, the Chicago-based executive search firm hired by the NBPA in September. In the meantime, Attorney Ron Klempner is acting executive director.

A report this week by Yahoo! Sports cited anonymous sources when mentioning Screen Actors Guild executive director David White as “the frontrunner.” Previously, former Madison Square Garden chief Steve Mills was mentioned, until he signed on with the New York Knicks in September as president and general manager.

In lieu of specifics, the NBPA officers sketched out the qualities they’re seeking in whoever succeeds Hunter.

“First things first, we’re looking for a leader,” Mason said. “A leader with integrity, a leader who is bright and a leader who can manage talent. We’re not expecting someone to come in here and be a jack of all trades, be great at everything. We want someone who can come in and manage talent.

“Look there’s always a day for negotiations with the CBA. But for us now, it’s really about growing collectively the sport. Our union is a little different in that we should be thinking outside the box a little bit. So we definitely want a leader who can engage with [new NBA commissioner] Adam Silver. It’s not necessarily adversarial.”

Also on the short NBPA agenda Saturday was naming a replacement for San Antonio forward Matt Bonner, whose three-year term on the executive committee ended this weekend. That, too, is pending.

The union began its meeting with a video about the 1964 All-Star players who nearly boycotted the showcase game that year to get concessions from the owners and NBA hierarchy for the union. Their threat not to play that night, made from a locker room at Boston Garden, led to the players’ pension program and a real seat at the table in collective bargaining. Hall of Famer Bob Pettit, who lives in Baton Rouge, La., and was one of the participants in that protest, was introduced to today’s player reps.

Hunter’s Lawsuit Vs. Union To Continue, While His Job Remains Vacant

Both sides were claiming victories of sort Wednesday in the legal battle between former National Basketball Players Association chief Billy Hunter and the union, including former president Derek Fisher.

A superior court judge in Los Angeles dismissed most of the claims made by Hunter against Fisher and his aide Jamie Wior (12 of 14, with two to be addressed in the coming days). But judge Huey Cotton ruled that Hunter’s breach-of-contract suit seeking $10 million from the union can continue. Hunter, the NBPA’s longtime executive director, claims he had a valid contract when he was terminated last February.

The crux of what remains centers around Hunter’s 2010 contract extension and whether it was properly ratified by the board of player representatives. The NBPA claims it was not and therefore was invalid, but Cotton did not rule on the union by-laws and how they pertain to contract extensions.

But what might matter most to anyone not directly involved, including NBA fans, is that the union’s search for Hunter’s replacement is moving slowly. According to Bleacher Report’s Howard Beck, NBA commissioner David Stern could be several months into his retirement and deputy Adam Silver well into his first year as Stern’s successor by the time the NBPA fills its leadership void:

Union officials are still interviewing candidates for Hunter’s successor as executive director. Contrary to a recent report, the union has not yet settled on a group of finalists, and the process could drag into the summer.

There isn’t anything as urgent as an expiring collective bargaining agreement in play, but a number of matters on which the league and the union hope to work together – such as enhancing the joint anti-drug policy to include testing for human growth hormone – have been on hold awaiting an NBPA hire. Guard Chris Paul of the Los Angeles Clippers was elected union president, succeeding Fisher, at last year’s All-Star Weekend.

Hunter was dismissed amid accusations of nepotism and improper business dealings. That triggered his lawsuit, which Fisher’s and Wior’s attorney Andrew Kassof described as “retaliation” after Cotton’s ruling:

Hunter sued the NPBA, Fisher, its former president, and Wior last May, saying they conspired to undermine his authority during the 2011 lockout, and then have his employment terminated following the labor dispute.

“Today proved that Mr. Hunter’s claims continue to be both farfetched and offensive,” Kassof said.

But Hunter’s attorney David Anderson of Sidley Austin said Cotton’s decision supports Hunter’s claims that his contract was valid, reported CBSSports.com’s Ken Berger.

Cotton’s ruling is expected to lead to settlement talks between Hunter and the union, though a previous attempt at negotiations reportedly failed.

Chris Paul Elected Union President

Clippers guard Chris Paul was elected president of the National Basketball Players Assn. on Wednesday as an important step, and an unexpected dose of name recognition, in the union’s attempt to find stability after more than a year of public infighting.

The outcome, part of the NBPA summer meeting in Las Vegas, was a surprise after reports portrayed Roger Mason Jr., a free agent who played with New Orleans last season, as the only declared candidate and likely winner. Instead, Paul became the rarity of a star atop the organization, the first since Patrick Ewing ended his term in 2001, and the most-visible face of the organization entangled by the controversy that led to lawsuits and executive director Billy Hunter being fired in February.

Paul said he has been thinking about running for a while and talked to members about the executive committee, including Mason, about a possible candidacy. The priority, his said on a conference call shortly after the election, is to get more players involved in the union.

“Right now is a big time for us as players and our union and moving forward,” Paul said. “I think I have a lot of experience in being around and knowing what’s going on. The other thing is, moving forward, the union is not about me. It’s not about the president or the first vice president or any one person. It’s about the players as a whole, as a body. That’s what we got out of the past two days in our meetings, what we can do moving forward to grow the game and build the game.

“Obviously, we’re restructuring a few things, just trying to make sure everything is set up properly. Everything is about checks and balances. I think we’ve got to give a lot of credit to the staff at the players’ association. They’ve been through a lot over the past year or so. It’s going to take a lot of work. But like I said, we have an outstanding executive committee, a great group of guys, board of directors, who are going to be ready and excited to move forward.”

Mason was elected first vice president Wednesday, replacing Jerry Stackhouse, who resigned and, according to the NBPA, is expected to take a new internal role. Additionally, Steve Blake of the Lakers and Anthony Tolliver of the Bobcats were elected vice presidents, filling the spots vacated by Paul and Mason.

“For me personally, I believe the union’s in a great place right now, especially after the past two days,” Paul said. “Obviously there were ideas and brainstorming and things like that, and right now it’s our job – the committee and the staff and myself – to move forward. No one said it was going to be easy, but that’s why we’re in this position. Stackhouse and the other guys, Roger Mason the first vice president, and the executive committee, we’re excited about the road ahead.”

Hunter was ousted amid evidence of mismanagement, including conflicts of interest in deals between his family members and the union. He then sued Derek Fisher, Paul’s predecessor as president, and the NBPA for defamation and breach of contract. A hearing on a motion to dismiss the case is pending.

Meanwhile, the union is without a permanent executive director to run the day-to-day operations. The search firm looking for Hunter’s replacement gave an update in Las Vegas, followed by Paul saying, “For us, there’s obviously no rush. Obviously we would love to get someone in that seat. But for us, we think we want to make sure our house is in order and make sure we have everything is in the right place so that executive director can come right in and can hit the ground running.”

Said Adam Silver, the NBA’s deputy commissioner: “Chris is an All-Star player and person and we look forward to working with him.”

Failed Drug Tests Aren’t Only Teeth In NBA/NBPA Anti-Drug Program

Like the folks who run Major League Baseball, the NBA believes it has a strong, modern, effective anti-drug program.

Like MLB, the NBA has worked with its players association and consulted with top authorities in the field to build an exhaustive and ever-evolving list of banned substances, from marijuana to drugs of abuse to the more topical, integrity-challenging steroids, performance-enhancers and masking agents.

So with MLB embroiled in recent weeks in the investigation of and penalties to 14 players snared in that sport’s latest doping scandal – without any indication that even one of those players failed a drug test – the question for the NBA or any other league seemed obvious: How good can an anti-drug program really be if admitted violators aren’t testing positive?

The answer from NBA HQ: Pretty good, because its anti-drug program goes beyond testing.

In baseball’s probe of the Biogenesis clinic in south Florida, it took leaked documents, statements from lab founder Anthony Bosch and an associate, other sources of information and an article in the Miami New Times, an alternative news publication, to snare the PED users.

Milwaukee Brewers outfielder Ryan Braun accepted a 65-game ban on July 22. Twelve major leaguers already have acknowledged their involvement and begun suspensions of 50 games each, while Yankees third baseman Alex Rodriguez is appealing his 211-game suspension.

The names of athletes from other sports supposedly turned up in the investigation, and NBA deputy commissioner Adam Silver said that he, chief compliance officer Rick Buchanan and other league executives were not aware of the involvement with Biogenesis of any NBA players.

None wanted to comment specifically on the MLB cases or their ramifications for the NBA. But the league’s anti-drug program has provisions that don’t require a failed test to intitiate the discipline process. Beyond the six random, unannounced tests during each season and offseason to which each player is subject, tests can be administered based on reasonable cause at any time.

Also, the policy allows for evidence coming from outside sources, such as Biogenesis’ trail of texts and electronic messages. A summary of the NBA’s program includes the following:

If the NBA obtains evidence of a player’s use, possession or distribution of a Prohibited Substance, it can take that evidence to a neutral arbitrator. If the arbitrator finds that the player has used or possessed a Drug of Abuse, or has distributed any Prohibited Substance, he will be dismissed and disqualified from the NBA. If the arbitrator finds that the player has used or possessed Marijuana or a SPED, such a finding is considered a violation under the Program and the player will be subject to the same penalties imposed for a positive drug test.

Silver also repeated to the New York Post last week what he and commissioner David Stern talked about after the Board of Governors meeting in Las Vegas last month: The NBA is looking to implement testing for human growth hormone (HGH), in addition to the urine testing that’s conducted for approximately 160 prohibited substances on its current list. HGH is on that list and NBA players who participate in international and Olympic competition have undergone the blood testing it requires, but that provision is not yet contained in the league’s anti-drug policy.

Negotiating for that with the National Basketball Players Association – the anti-drug program is “jointly maintained and administered” by the NBA and the union – currently is on hold while the NBPA attends to other business. A new president to succeed Derek Fisher in the top agenda item at the the NBPA summer meeting Wednesday in Las Vegas, and the search for a new executive director to replace Billy Hunter could last through the end of 2013.

Some might consider it luck, and a statement on the early types of steroids and their effects, that the culture of PEDs has not taken hold in the NBA as it has in some other sports.

Now at least – much as MLB has seen in the wake of its latest scandal – the NBA is optimistic that the majority of its players see them as cheating and want to deter their use.

‘The Lockout: A Musical’ Makes Light Of NBA Business-As-Usual

Had this one been in the pile of bad plays through which Max Bialystock and Leo Bloom sifted for their surefire money-loser in “The Producers,” they might never have read down to “Springtime for Hitler.” Conceiving, writing and scoring a story based on one of the NBA’s most acrimonious and regrettable episodes, and producing it as “The Lockout: A Musical,” seems about as ill-advised as bottling and marketing Shaq’s perspiration as Eau de O’Neal at fragrance counters everywhere.

The NBA lockout that delayed the start of the 2011-12 season until Christmas wasn’t much fun for anyone. Big basketball vs. big labor, it featured seemingly endless rounds of wrangling and posturing in Manhattan hotel ballrooms, various shades of purple rhetoric, the loss of 240 regular season games and discarded pizza boxes emptied by sportswriters, courtesy of sportswriters in other cities, who found solidarity through bad takeout food.

Lord Lloyd Webber himself, had he stumbled into a grim session between David Stern, Billy Hunter, Derek Fisher and the rest, wouldn’t have sniffed the inspiration for a musical comedy. So what were Ben Fort and Jason Gallagher thinking when they veered into hoops labor strife with a story they already had been writing?

“We always wanted to something sports-related,” said Gallagher, who teams with Fort in the Chicago production company Six Hours Short and also operates the NBA humor site Ballerball.com. “Originally the story was going to be based around free agency – we were observing LeBron James’ ‘decision,’ which was absurd, and some of the even more absurd contracts that went to other players that summer. Then [one year later] the lockout happened.”

That became the backdrop of what Fort and Gallagher describe as “the budding bromance of an owner and player who find themselves on opposite sides of a bitter labor dispute.” In story and song, they tell the tale of Phil Goodman, owner of the fictional NBA Wichita Water, and a zero-time All-Star player named Macon Jones. James’ name actually gets mentioned in the show, Gallagher said, but the other characters are all originals or composites based on various NBA archetypes.

There is, for instance, a Joe Johnson-like character, as in a grossly overpaid good-but-not-great star. There’s an aging, grizzled vet and players association stalwart loosely based on Fisher and a female team executive who exhibits traits of Houston GM Daryl Morey. Because the Illum character – whose tale took over from Jones’ as the primary focus as the play was crafted — is written as a “really lovable” team owner, Fort and Gallagher obviously had to concoct that guy from scratch (kidding!).

“The other 29 are talked of as Prince-of-Darkness type owners, but we wanted our lead to be this dim-witted but good-hearted guy,” Gallagher said. “We try to show the backlash when someone signs a deal that everyone hates. But we said, what if these are really good people doing it? We wanted to humanize it.”

Gallagher said that the first act, thus, is mostly about free agency. The second act plunges the characters into the lockout, giving it what the co-writer said is a “ ‘Romeo and Juliet’ flavor. The player and the team owner really like each other but they can’t even talk to each other because of the lockout.”

There is a Commissioner character who also has villainous overtones, but he deftly is not named Stern. And Gallagher said the NBA has checked in on the production, apparently signing off enough that deputy commissioner Adam Silver joked that he’s fine with it as long as he’s played “by Denzel.”

A 12-song, original cast recording already is available for download. Directed by Joe Giovanetti, “The Lockout: A Musical” will have its world premiere Aug. 23 at the American Theater Company in Chicago and run through Sept. 15. Ticket prices and more information is available at the Web site. And rest assured that HTB will have a critic in the balcony to report back on this pebble-grained production, which might find its spot among other great basketball-themed stage presentations, such as “Twelve Angry Men,” “Waiting for D.Rose” and “A Streetcar Named World Peace.”

Big O: LeBron Would ‘Excel’ As NBPA Prez

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LeBron James is said to be “mulling” making a bid for the presidency of the NBA players association.

Oscar Robertson held that post longer than any NBA player in history.

To this day, Robertson remains the biggest name to have served his fellow players in that capacity. And as one of the game’s true Olympian figures, Robertson cannot imagine a better candidate than James, who is on his way to similar heights.

“Yeah, he’d have to think about it — I think he would have an excellent situation,” Robertson said in a phone interview Thursday evening. “I think if he was president of the players [union], he would excel like he does on the basketball court. I guess, maybe now with all the advice and the consultants and things, it would be a different situation.”

Robertson, the NBA’s legendary “Big O” during his Hall of Fame career in Cincinnati and Milwaukee, served as president of the National Basketball Players Association from 1965 to his retirement in 1974. Those were some of the league’s, and the union’s, most tumultuous years, when the two sides hammered out the makings of today’s so-called “player-owner partnership” mostly by colliding repeatedly into each other.

Big O key in early labor battles

Organized by Celtics great Bob Cousy in 1954 and further established by his Boston teammate Tom Heinsohn from 1958-65, the union in 1965 still was fighting for what now would be considered bare essentials: pay for preseason games, better medical care, the concept of an All-Star “break,” modest bumps in meal money and pensions, and a boost in the minimum player salary — out of FOUR figures. All of the strategies and jargon that were in play during the 2011 lockout, like cancelled games and filings with the National Labor Relations Board? Those were in play in the 1960s, too, when the NBPA’s power base was a lot more tenuous.

“Actually, I was naïve when I started,” Robertson said. “I didn’t know anything about it.  Sometimes it’s fate, what happens. So I just got involved. I didn’t know anything about the union whatsoever — I knew what it was because I was in it, but as far as how to run it, it was on-the-job training for me.”

The American Basketball Association (ABA) sprang up in 1967, exacerbating tensions between the NBA’s owners and the players. By 1970, with salaries bid ever higher and the two leagues in merger negotiations, the union filed an antitrust lawsuit to block such a move, given its impact on their employment and freedoms. The players sought to abolish the college draft and the option clause in standard contracts that bound them to their teams in perpetuity. Acrimony spiked, and a lawsuit in the matter soon became known for the union president’s name attached to it: the Oscar Robertson suit.

“I’m glad that I was a star,” Robertson recalled Thursday. “Because if I was a mediocre player, I wouldn’t have lasted very long. Because in those days, the league hated you as a player rep and they wanted to get rid of you.”

Robertson, now 74, wasn’t just a star. He was the LeBron James of his day (or vice versa). Many people know of him as the master of the triple-double — in 1961-62, he famously averaged at least 10 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists for an entire season. What too many neglect, of course, is that Robertson averaged 30.8 points along with those 12.5 rebounds and 11.4 assists.

Even fewer realize that the 6-foot-5, 205-pound guard averaged a triple-double over his first five seasons in the league: 30.2 ppg, 10.4 rpg and 10.6 apg in 384 appearances from 1960-61 through 1964-65.

Robertson’s game gave him a voice, not unlike James in Houston at All-Star weekend in February. On that Saturday, at the union’s membership meeting at the Hilton, James commanded the room by probing and leading the discussion of NBPA executive director Billy Hunter’s job performance and ethics, outgoing president Derek Fisher’s role, the members of the union’s executive committee and the very future of the association.

James and veteran Jerry Stackhouse, through their comments, questions and actions that afternoon, reportedly imposed order on a group spinning out of control. Stackhouse, who recently told FoxSports.com that the union hopes to name a replacement for Hunter (and acting director Ron Klempner) sometime after Christmas, isn’t expected to be active as a player this season.

But James’ star power as a possible NBPA president could boost the union’s credibility and impact.

Stars have tradition of taking NBPA spotlight

The star-driven NBA has had, for more than a decade, a union driven by role players. What Cousy, Heinsohn and Robertson began, others such as Bob Lanier, Isiah Thomas and Patrick Ewing continued. But since 2001, Michael Curry (2001-05), Antonio Davis (2005-06) and Fisher (2006-present) have headed the NBPA.

Through the union’s first 47 years, 10 players served as president; seven wound up in the Hall of Fame and the 10 combined for 75 All-Star selections. In the past 13 years, Davis’ 2001 All-Star appearance stands alone. None of the last three presidents is headed to Springfield.

That didn’t preclude them from being effective — Fisher worked tirelessly and often thanklessly through the prickly lockout two years ago. But the clout that comes with star status — James has two NBA titles with the Heat, four MVPs, Olympic gold and more — can help immensely, Robertson said.

“I felt I commanded a lot of respect from a lot of different ball players, when you say something to the guys,” Robertson said. “And if you’re friendly with ‘em, other than playing basketball, it will help also.”

Finding NBA stars willing to take on the role, while sacrificing time and outside earning opportunities, has gotten more difficult. Robertson thinks it has something to do with the stakes these days.

“That’s always been [an apathy] problem with some guys,” he said. “But you look at it over the years, with all of the problems they’ve had, a lot of players because they’re making money, they just don’t get involved. They don’t need to — it might hurt you selling a pair of shoes or a headband or something.”

Robertson: NBPA prez a job of ‘sacrifice’

People can debate the merits of a union president who dominates All-NBA teams vs. one who relates (and earns similarly) to the league’s middle class. Either version will wind up logging long hours. “There’s no doubt about it, it’s a sacrifice,” Robertson said. “Especially if you do a good job. If you do the job [the way] they’re going to have confidence in you, sometimes it gets a little lonely. Until something happens.

“I didn’t think about whether it was hard or not [to make time]. It was an opportunity. There was an awful lot going on when I was with the players association, a lot of changes that needed to be done. Some we did right, some we didn’t.”

Robertson is proud of the gains achieved by the NBPA during his tenure. The Robertson lawsuit triggered negotiations that led to free agency, as well as a settlement that paid more than $4 million to then-current players and another $1 million in union legal fees. Pensions improved and the minimum salary tripled on his watch.

Only a handful of his peers or players since have thanked him for his service, Robertson said (“But I didn’t do it for that anyway”). He also said he paid a professional price. Robertson was dropped after one season as color analyst on the NBA’s network telecasts because, legend has it, some owners bristled at such a prominent role for the player who sued them.

On the other side of the ledger, however, Robertson points to the strides they all made. “Look at the money guys are making now,” he said. “Look at the [charter-jet, luxury-hotel] travel. There’s an orthopedic doctor at the games. You get better meal money. You have a right to go to other teams if you don’t have a valid and existing contract with your team.

“There’s no doubt about it — we were there during some [pivotal] years for the NBA.”

So there are some of the pros and cons, in Robertson’s view, as James mulls a potential candidacy: The time commitment, the opportunities skipped, the politics involved, knowing when to delegate and so on. The Hall of Famer said he would be willing to advise James, if asked. Also, Robertson’s old friend Jim Quinn — the attorney who worked on the lawsuit four decades ago and helped broker the lockout settlement 20 months ago — is again working with the NBPA in its search for Hunter’s replacement.

The union’s greatest challenge now? “Getting rid of personality tiffs. That kills you,” Robertson said.

“Somebody gets upset … because somebody doesn’t like what you’re doing, and they start this current going against you. A lot of players, when they start to make millions of dollars and they get agents who also are afraid to have their little nest egg cut off, that’s what happens.”

James, through force of personality and basketball superiority, might be the right choice to stem that.

Fisher Joins Thunder After Shafting Mavs

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – Fresh off remaining as players union president during All-Star weekend, Derek Fisher’s first initiative apparently was to re-instate himself on an NBA team.

Not with the struggling Dallas Mavericks, the team he bailed on in December and the only one willing to sign him in late November. Fisher signed Monday with the Oklahoma City Thunder, the championship contender he joined late last season that conveniently again has an opening for a veteran point guard with a history of making clutch shots.

If the Rolling Stones had first met Derek Fisher, they never would have recorded “You can’t always get what you want.”

Fisher just keeps on getting.

The 38-year-old southpaw who won five titles in two stints playing alongside Kobe Bryant, signed a veteran’s minimum deal with the Mavs on Nov. 29 on the heels of Dallas benching Darren Collison. Fisher immediately took over as the starter until he asked for and received his release on Dec. 22 so he could spend more time with his family, as he explained in a prepared statement.

Apparently with 26 games left before the start of the playoffs, family concerns are no longer an issue for Fisher, who wore No. 6 for the Mavs because, as he said, he joined them on a quest for a sixth title. “This is not a pit stop,” Fisher told his new Dallas teammates.

Lo and behold, he will also wear No. 6 for the Thunder. He will make his second OKC debut in as many seasons at home Wednesday against the New Orleans Hornets.

So how do the jilted Mavs feel about this turn of events?

Owner Mark Cuban did not reply to multiple emails on Monday, but one league source said the best way to describe the mood of the Dallas front office is “agitated.” The source said that Fisher and his representatives never contacted the Mavs during his decision-making process to discuss a possible return to Dallas, the team that, in good faith, initially signed him.

The source said that Fisher’s departure before Christmas seemed to come out of the blue. Of course, in 2007 when Fisher played for the Utah Jazz, he did have a family emergency in the playoffs. His 11-month-old daughter suffered from cancer in her left eye and required surgery in New York. After the playoffs — where Fisher had an iconic moment in the West semifinals — Fisher asked the Jazz to release him from his contract so he could concentrate on finding the best care for his daughter. After saying, “life for me outweighs the game of basketball,” Fisher would soon sign a three-year deal to return to the Lakers.

The Mavs (25-30) are still determined to make a playoff charge and could use Fisher now just as they did in late November when they were 7-7. Collison has been up and down and coach Rick Carlisle still often turns to 37-year-old, NBA D-League call-up Mike James to run the offense in crunch time.

Dallas is 4 1/2 games out of the eighth and final playoff spot. The club’s brass, coaches and players surely can’t help but wonder if that might be different had Fisher stayed. The Mavs have lacked late-game execution all season. They’re 1-8 in overtime games, 0-1 with Fisher; 2-6 in games decided by three points or less, 1-1 with Fisher.

They were 5-4 overall with him, although in his final game, a win over Philadelphia, Fisher strained a tendon in his right knee and played just five minutes.

Four days later he was out the door. In the same press release that he explained his decision to quit, he said the injury would keep him out only about two weeks.

His resurfacing for the stretch run lends credence to an interesting notion first dished up by FoxSports.com’s Jason Whitlock in a scathing column prior to All-Star weekend. Whitlock suggested that Fisher’s sole intention when he signed with the Mavs — or with any team that would sign him — was to make himself eligible to maintain his position as NBPA president. If Fisher remained out of the league, he couldn’t lead the union.

The following day at the NBPA meeting in Houston, Fisher announced the ouster of former union executive director Billy Hunter, just as Fisher remained on as president.

Once a politician, apparently always a politician.

Let the quest for title No. 6 officially begin.

LeBron James’ Latest MVP: Most Vocal

 

Any doubts that this is LeBron James‘ NBA and the other players currently are just participating in it should have been shelved last weekend. No, not by what the reigning Most Valuable Player and runaway favorite again for the 2012-13 award (sorry, Charles) did in the All-Star Game on Sunday, though his 19 points, five assists and three 3-pointers in 30 minutes weren’t shabby.

James made his greater impact the day before, when he led the discussion – some have referred to it as part interrogation, part rallying cry – of fellow union members at which National Basketball Players Association Billy Hunter was relieved of his duties.

Insiders marveled immediately at how forceful both the Miami Heat supertar and Brooklyn Nets veteran Jerry Stackhouse were, among the 35-40 players in the hotel meeting room, in vetting the recent investigation into Hunter’s nepotism and conflicts of interest and in moving the group toward a cleaner, more player-driven organization.

The vote of team player reps to oust Hunter was unanimous, 24-0 (not all teams were represented). The reconfigured executive committee, several of whom stood behind union president Derek Fisher when the outcome was announced, featured a handful of new members (including Stackhouse) along with some holdovers.

But it wouldn’t have gotten to that point in the span of a couple of hours, if not for James and Stackhouse challenging the business audit conducted by law firm Paul, Weiss, then challenging their peers to take the union back.

The New York Times quoted one person in the room as saying, “It was spectacular.”

“It’s a misperception that we try to fight, that this was the first meeting LeBron has attended or this was the first time LeBron said something,” said Miami teammate James Jones, the NBPA’s secretary-treasurer. “LeBron’s always talking about how we can improve our game and the issues surrounding our game. Because he’s one of this league’s brightest faces and brightest stars.”

Star power matters in situations like this, not just when national media is focused on a lockout and collective-bargaining talks. James and other big names such as Dwyane Wade, Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce made their presence in Manhattan known in the fall of 2011, when the NBA was shut down and sliced from 82 games to 66 in 2011-12 before an agreement was reached.

But dealing with internal strife matters, too, as does the reorganization and the strides that can be made during times of labor peace. It’s not just for the 10th or 12th men on NBA rosters (Chris Paul was the only perennial All-Star on the exec committee.)

“I want to be educated,” James told NBA.com late Thursday night, after the Heat’s drubbing of the Bulls in Chicago. “Not only so I’m educated individually but so I can relate to my teammates and my teammates can relate it to their friends in the league. So we all can be more knowledgeable about it and not be caught off guard – that’s what happened. Everybody asks about [the Hunter crisis] and when you don’t have an answer, that doesn’t look good.”

If others were impressed with him, James said he was impressed with Stackhouse, 38 and 18 years into an NBA career that might not continue beyond this spring. The Nets swingman wasn’t just vocal – he accepted a VP spot on the union board. Stackhouse also was working the visitors dressing room at Barclays Center Friday, along with NBPA attorney Ron Klempner, talking with members of the Houston Rockets.

“That shows a lot,” James said of Stackhouse’s commitment. “He’s almost finished with his career and it’s not about him. It’s about the collective.”

Fisher and the other players took no questions from reporters last week after reading a statement of less than three minutes announcing Hunter’s dismissal. But Jones said the 8-0 vote against Fisher last spring, seeking his resignation, was set aside at the meeting when the case against Hunter was made clear to those players in attendance. “What happened in the past is in the past,” Jones said. “Derek is our president and we’re all behind him.”

The Heat reserve also said that it wasn’t true that most NBA players are ignorant of or disinterested in union business until trouble looms. “It’s not like we’re trying to keep 20,000 members involved,” Jones said. “We’ve got about 450 . It’s a misconception that they’re not involved.”

Still, many critics have cited Fisher and others for allowing Hunter’s questionable decisions – hiring family members, directing NBPA investments, paying certain improper expenses and the limited oversight of his contract extension – to occur on their watch. Even Fisher said after the meeting, “Going forward, we’ll no longer be divided, misled, misinformed. This is our union and we’re taking it back.”

That, James said, was his motivation last weekend.

Hunter, 70, is expected to mount a legal challenge, pending the results of criminal investigations into the matter. Or he may simply seek a settlement of the $10.5 million he says is still owed to him. The union might turn to an executive search firm to find a replacement for Hunter, unless Klempner seeks the position permanently and is a consensus choice.

“We haven’t got to that point yet,” James said. “We cleaned our house with the firing of Billy, releasing him. Right now we are getting things in order. But we are not going to take a step back. We’re going to push forward and make sure we have more of an emphasis on the players.

“We feel like that’s something that should be done – the players’ voices mean something. In the past, it wasn’t the players that we heard so much.”

And there’s no better time, with relative labor peace until at least 2017.

“Yeah, that’s why you get started now,” James said. “So at least you have a plan by the time it’s time to talk again.”

Hunter Responds To NBPA Termination

HOUSTON — Reporters in the room didn’t get to ask questions. Billy Hunter didn’t even get that from the NBA players union and president Derek Fisher, after they announced publicly that they had terminated him from the position of executive director.

Hunter and his representatives were still saying Saturday evening that they hadn’t received official notice that he had been voted out at the National Basketball Players Association annual All-Star meeting. He was not allowed to attend the afternoon meeting to defend himself. So, he issued a statement suggesting that the way in which his ouster was handled is “indicative” of the union’s actions in the weeks since his business practices were questioned. And he seemed to assure Fisher’s prediction things might proceed in “an ugly way” for a while.

Here is the statement from Hunter, the NBPA’s executive director since 1996, as posted on www.gbillyhunter.blogspot.com

I have yet to receive any notification, other than published news reports, that the NBPA has terminated my employment.  If accurate, it is indicative of the extremely troubling process followed by the NBPA during the past few weeks. During the days and weeks ahead, my legal team and I will begin carefully reviewing the actions taken and statements made against me in the meeting room in my absence.  I look forward to gathering the evidence showing how certain individuals made sure the outcome was pre-ordained.

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.  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.  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.  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.