Posts Tagged ‘Billy Hunter’

NBA All-Stars May Help Decide Fate of Union Exec Hunter

HOUSTON – Traditionally, All-Star Saturday calls to mind images of dunkers, marksmen and practitioners of the pebble-grain arts in a night filled with hoopla and hoops. This weekend, though, All-Star Saturday will be a call to order — a call to arms, even — with the bonus imagery of grim-faced NBA stars in street clothes emerging from hotel meeting rooms.

Those sort of lockout flashbacks could be in play given the busy agenda for the NBA players’ union in its mid-winter meeting Saturday afternoon. Billy Hunter, embattled executive director of the National Basketball Players Association, could be ousted by a players vote if the findings of an independent business review animate and carry the day. Or, Hunter’s paid leave of absence – imposed on Feb. 1 amid charges that he engaged in nepotism, conflicts of interest and other improper business practices – could continue indefinitely while the NBPA explores its tactical and legal options.

“To be honest, I don’t know that much about it,” Chicago center Joakim Noah said during All-Star media availability Friday. “But the things that I hear are kind of alarming. It doesn’t feel clean. It’s not a good feeling to feel that way. We should feel comfortable, if he’s representing us, as players.”

Noah’s reaction is typical of a lot of union members – he happens to be one of Chicago’s player reps – who pay attention mostly to the big stuff: elections, lockouts and alleged violations of trust. That’s why the report in late January by law firm Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison — commissioned by the players out of a rift between Hunter and NBPA president Derek Fisher – is grabbing their attention.

Hunter was criticized in the report for hiring two daughters, for directing NBPA financial business to an investment firm (Prim Capital) that employed his son, for using union funds for personal expenses and for allegedly working on a contract – which pays him an annual salary of about $3 million – that was improperly ratified. He was not cited for any criminal infractions, he defended his conduct and, after the report was released, Hunter recommended policy reforms to prevent similar abuses in the future.

The chances of Hunter hanging onto his job have worsened over the past two weeks. Several NBA players, including Boston’s Paul Pierce and Brooklyn’s Jerry Stackhouse, called for his removal as one of several union changes. Arn Tellem, one of the league’s most powerful player agents, wrote a letter to his clients urging them to vote for Hunter’s termination.

His plan to explain to and persuade the players by attending their meeting Saturday ended when they opted not to invite him. Instead, Hunter and a team of attorneys posted statements of his position – and the PowerPoint presentation he had intended to show the players – on a “blog” Friday. Hunter, 70, has held his position since 1996, steering the union through two major lockouts and presiding over an increase in the average player salary to $5 million.

“Billy Hunter’s always been, in my eyes, an honest person and I support him,” Memphis forward Zach Randolph said. “Whatever he does, I don’t have no problem with it. I read some of the report that came out and I didn’t see him doing anything wrong.”

Randolph said he “might be at the meeting” and that, if the opportunity arises, he “definitely would” speak up on Hunter’s behalf. Others sounded more non-committal, seeking details before passing judgment.

“Part of why I’ll be at the meeting, I want to know exactly what’s going on,” Bulls forward Luol Deng said. “I can’t speak out for something I’m not 100 percent about. I know Billy Hunter’s a good guy. Everything that’s happened? I don’t know.”

Said Golden State forward David Lee: “The most important thing is, we need to all be united in whatever we decide. Right now, it looks like there’s some indecision and some things we need sorted out. Whatever we decide, whatever direction we go in, we all need to be on the same page.”

Getting this fixed – Hunter has a reported $10.5 million left on his contract and will sue to be paid in full, sources said – represents a challenge to the NBPA. Like a lot of similar associations, apathy can take hold and member involvement often slackens until the next crisis.

“But it’s very important,” said L.A. Clippers guard Chris Paul, a member of the interim executive committee. “Players are the union. We want to make sure we have a strong union, everybody believes in what’s going on and we move on.”

San Antonio reserve Matt Bonner, also on the five-man committee of union vice presidents, said this can be an opportunity for the NBPA, as well. Having its business put out in the street like this is a public relations blow, he acknowledged. But a greater good could follow.

“Players reps will be here, additional players will be here, and we can have a really productive discussion on how we’re going to move this thing forward,” Bonner said. “The more player involvement we have, the better.

Union Chief Hunter Makes Case Via Blog

HOUSTONBilly Hunter is taking his case to the people.

Hunter, the embattled executive director of the National Basketball Players Association — currently on indefinite leave amid charges of nepotism, conflicts of interest and improper business practices — has a new blog designed to do just that. It’s at: http://www.gbillyhunter.blogspot.com/

Hunter’s fate as NBPA executive director is expected to be decided at the union’s annual meeting Saturday at All-Star Weekend. Whether he would be permitted to attend the meeting — to rebut the charges that surfaced in a report in late January commissioned by the players from law firm Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison — remained in doubt as union members began to gather here Thursday.

To make his case regardless, or perhaps to leverage his way to an audience with the players, a team of Hunter attorneys Friday morning announced “Mr. Hunter’s new blog, simply designed for two purposes.”

1) To keep many of you updated on the status of Mr. Hunter’s position with the NBPA.  Many of you have graciously inquired about the well-being of both Mr. Hunter and his family during this challenging time.

2)  To provide a strong preliminary rebuttal to the Paul Weiss Report which was one-sided in content and not characteristic of Mr. Hunter’s successful 17 year tenure of the NBPA.

In the Paul, Weiss report, Hunter was found to have employed family members, paying them and their professional firms nearly $4.8 million since 2001. He used a financial firm, Prim Capital, that employed his son Todd for NBPA investments. He also allegedly negotiated a contract extension — at an annual salary of about $3 million — without seeking proper approval of the union’s executive board and spent NBPA funds on a variety of expenses questioned in the report. Hunter told the New York Times in a recent interview that he expected to be paid the balance of his contract — $10.5 million in salary and benefits — whether he is retained or not.

Friction between union president Derek Fisher, a veteran NBA point guard, and Hunter has its roots in the league’s 2011 lockout. Fisher’s role also is in question, if only because he currently is not an active NBA player. Some players, including stridently outspoken Brooklyn veteran Jerry Stackhouse, have urged a sweep of the union’s hierarchy, including Hunter, Fisher and the executive committee.

The meeting Saturday, initially scheduled for morning, has been moved to mid-day to accommodate players’ travel needs, one source told NBA.com. Anticipating resistance to allowing him counter the charges in person, Hunter’s “blog” features links to a 21-page preliminary response, an executive summary and a PowerPoint presentation intended for the players.

The release sent to NBA media outlets Friday concluded:

Many players expected to hear from Mr. Hunter in Houston and have expressed dismay that he has not not been invited by the interim leadership regime — whose authority to place him on administrative leave is not supported by the union’s Constitution or bylaws.  Therefore, Mr. Hunter was left with no choice but to communicate with the public in a more direct manner to ensure that his response to the allegations was heard without filter.

As we have all been taught from childhood, there is always another side to the story that should be evaluated in any circumstance and before any judgments are made or actions, once taken, cannot be reversed.

Stern’s Countdown As NBA Commissioner Under Way

HOUSTON – Former Kings and Nets All-Star Otis Birdsong, at a brief ceremony Thursday afternoon extending the partnership between the NBA and the National Basketball Retired Players Association, took a moment to thank commissioner David Stern for his service to the league and his friendship.

A few minutes earlier at Houston’s convention center, Stern had officially welcomed fans to the latest, and his final, Jam Session at All-Star Weekend.

The next several days figure to be a lot of the above: People summing up Stern’s contributions as commissioner, maybe expressing their thoughts about what will be his 30 years at the top of the league’s hierarchy, and noting his last this and final that. After all, he’s a short-timer now – Stern announced in October that he would be retire from the post on Feb. 1, 2014. Deputy commissioner Adam Silver is his likely successor.

So as Stern made the rounds Friday, and continues through the weekend, there already was a twilight feel taking hold.

In one exchange, a reporter asked Stern what folks ought to know about him before he exits. “Everyone knows about me,” Stern said. “This is my 36th year at the NBA, starting [as legal counsel] in 1978. There’s not a lot left that people don’t understand, although they see me more in a business [mode] or less in some of my non-profit endeavors. But that’s just the way it is because I consider those to be more private.”

Ask 100 players, coaches, executives and fans across the NBA about Stern and there might be an equal number of differing opinions. As for those public moments when he gets booed by one team’s partisans or another’s – such as at the NBA Draft – Stern said: “They’re showing their fandom. I think it’s terrific.”

Stern’s final All-Star press conference – see, always with the historic stuff now – will be held at its customary time and place: Saturday in the bowels of the arena before All-Star Saturday events. But he took enough questions from reporters Thursday to provide a sampler for what he might be talking about in 48 hours.

Among other topics:

  • Possible expansion as a solution to the franchise-relocation battle involving Sacramento and Seattle: “Talk to Adam next year. I don’t have any plans to champion expansion between now and February 2014.”
  • The Kings’ uncertain future: “Seattle’s a great market. Sacramento’s been a good market. It’s going to be a very difficult decision for the Board of Governors, if Sacramento comes up with an offer. That’s why I’m glad I’m not an owner.”
  • Turmoil in the NBA players union, with a meeting set for Saturday at which NBPA executive director Billy Hunter‘s fate could be determined: “We always look forward to negotiating with whomever the players association sends to negotiate with us. And we’ve had some really good negotiations over the years. Not only with Billy Hunter per se but with Jeffrey Kessler, who is the lawyer representing the union and [economist] Kevin Murphy … We’ve had some very difficult negotiations but we feel very good about where we are now.” [In other words, Stern, the league and the owners are interested observers but staying out of the fray.]
  • An All-Star Weekend staged some year in London: “That’s for the next commissioner to worry about…”

Expect to hear at lot of that in the coming 11 1/2 months.

Nets’ Stackhouse On Players Union: Hunter, Fisher, Others Must Go

Several NBA players, including Boston’s Paul Pierce and Brooklyn’s Deron Williams, have said that a change is needed atop the National Basketball Players Association’s hierarchy. In other words, Billy Hunter, cited recently for nepotism and conflicts of interest after 16 years as the union’s executive directory, needs to go.

Now, Nets veteran Jerry Stackhouse adds his voice, perhaps the most strident yet, to those seeking reforms that begin but don’t necessarily end with Hunter being replaced. Stackhouse made his views clear to Detroit News reporter Vincent Goodwill after Brooklyn’s victory over the Pistons Wednesday.

“I think we need wholesale changes all the way around,” Stackhouse said. “I think everybody’s pointing the finger at Billy, and rightfully so. He’s made some wrong moves, but at the same time, we’ve sat and allowed those moves to be made.”

In other words, NBA players bear responsibility for whatever has gone on that they might not like. That includes union president Derek Fisher and members of the NBPA’s executive committee.

Stackhouse says Hunter isn’t the only one who needs to be shown the door.

“Derek has stepped up and has really tried to grab the reins but I think he has to go too,” he said. “If you’re not aware of everything that’s happened on your watch for so long, I think the whole system is flawed.”

Stackhouse, a 1995 lottery pick in his 18th NBA season with his eighth franchise, said he will travel to Houston next week for what are expected to be some heavy-duty union meetings at All-Star weekend.

“I plan on going to make my point. I won’t be surprised if Billy was there, with all he’s done he’ll try to show his face and act as if business as usual,” Stackhouse said. “The same thing with Derek. They can’t operate as if business as usual. They’ve shown their flaws too much to still continue in their positions.”

With the current collective bargaining agreement in place for five more years, Stackhouse sees this as a time for the union to get its house in order. For that to happen, though, every NBA player has to show an interest in his and his peers’ business interests, rather than sticking someone in each team’s locker room with the “player rep” role and leaving important work only to them.

Some might note that Stackhouse, 38, wasn’t a familiar face at a lot of the CBA talks during the 2011 lockout. Others might wonder if he’s angling for a post-playing career as a union exec – though that would require him to stop playing, which Stackhouse has show no signs of doing.

Besides, he said, this matter is bigger than one guy’s ire or ambitions.

“It’s not about me,” said Stackhouse, who is likely to retire after this season or the next. “It’s about a league that’s been great to me and great to a lot of other people, to make sure we keep growing. The league is growing and the salaries should grow too.”

Hunter Defends Union Conduct

Longtime MLB and NHL labor nemesis Donald Fehr’s name has been mentioned. The acting director of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, B. Todd Jones, might be approached, though he already has two jobs and he’s in the midst of his own controversy at the moment. And NBA.com’s David Aldridge on Monday offered up a trio of candidates who could be worthy choices to head up the National Basketball Players Association.

All this speculation about Billy Hunter’s possible successor as NBPA executive director was enough to trigger Hunter’s first interview defending his performance and arguing why he should continue in his job.

It might, however, be too little, too late. Again.

Too late because, for the second time in a week (and borrowing a term from politics), Hunter has tried to lead from behind. It was only after he was cited in an independent audit commissioned by the players for incidents of nepotism and conflict of interest that Hunter announced a series of “governance reforms” in how the NBPA would conduct its business.

Now, even as a list of replacements was being informally (or maybe even formally) compiled, Hunter tried to catch up to the process in a sitdown interview with the New York Times Wednesday. He is on indefinite paid leave blocking him from NBPA business or contact with NBA players while the union sorts through its options in advance of a highly scrutinized Feb. 16 meeting at All-Star Weekend in Houston.

Of course, Hunter’s silence to this point might have been driven by legal advice. A federal investigation by the U.S. attorney’s office in Manhattan and the Labor Department still is underway. The Times, citing an anonymous source, reported that “grand-jury subpoenas were issued to a number of players and union employees over the last several weeks and that the state of New York’s attorney general has begun an inquiry. Hunter has maintained throughout that none of his actions rise to the criminal level:

“They didn’t find one dime missing, nothing out of place.”

The too-little part? It’s risky to confuse quantity with quality in interview situations — men and women of few words can speak volumes — but Hunter’s quotes in Howard Beck’s story totaled a mere 184 words. In what was billed as a 65-minute interview, much of the time seemingly was taken up by Hunter’s attorney, Thomas Ashley, or by disputing specifics in the damaging report compiled by the law firm Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison.

Among the more significant concerns cited in the audit were Hunter’s hiring of family members; his receipt of a $1.3 million vacation payout that was inadequately documented; the decision to spend $80,000 in “due diligence” on a possible investment in a failing bank that had ties to his son; and questionable travel expenses. Hunter called the report “just a lot of little things.”

“It’s almost like you put enough together, and you throw it up against the wall, hopefully something will stick,” he said. “But when you look at them each individually, we can rebut them.”

The challenge for Hunter might be getting an appropriate forum. The Times story noted that Boston’s Paul Pierce and Brooklyn’s Deron Williams already have spoken publicly about the need for a replacement. And veteran Jerry Stackhouse is ready for a change, too, according to Vincent Goodwill of the Detroit News.

The Times story noted, too, that the 70-year-old director might not be permitted to attend meetings at All-Star Weekend that could decide his fate. Hunter seemed skeptical that he would be given a fair chance by union president Derek Fisher or the executive committee to present his side of the issues, beyond what he already has done.

“I assume that between now and then that Derek will be doing everything he can to stack the deck,” Hunter said, referring to the coming union meeting, “so that they have the appropriate players in place to vote according to their request or plan.”

Hunter’s future would be determined by a vote of the NBPA’s 30 player representatives. In the event things don’t go as he might like, Hunter and Ashley said that – if he were terminated – they feel the $10.5 million and benefits left on his contract still would be due him. A legal fight for it, if necessary, surely would ensue.

Two items of interest related to that: First, the NBPA’s coffers apparently are in great shape, with a reported $80 million surplus, according to the Times story.

Second, NBA players have talked for years about their “partnership” with the owners. Well, one thing owners sure are good at is firing people in leadership positions (a.k.a. coaches) and paying them not to work even as they hire – and pay – replacementa. The NBPA soon might be feeling that partnership more than ever.

Has Time Run Out On Embattled Hunter?

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.

Union Chief Hunter Suggests Reforms To Thwart … His Past Abuses?

National Basketball Players Association executive director Billy Hunter, under fire from charges of nepotism and conflicts of interest in recent weeks, announced a series of “governance reforms” Wednesday to be presented to the union at All-Star Weekend.

The measures, as described in an NBPA release, seem designed to prevent the sort of abuses in which Hunter was found to have engaged in, according to an independent investigation commissioned by the players and released Jan. 17. That report led to a letter from Arn Tellem, one of sports’ top player agents, to his clients that was made public Tuesday and called for Hunter’s dismissal.

Hunter responded Tuesday, according to multiple media reports, by announcing the termination of his daughter and daughter-in-law from union-related positions and severing investment relations with Prim Capital, where his son was employed. The NBPA announcement one day later makes those moves official and recommends other policy changes.

Presumably, those will include greater oversight over NBPA contracts, since Hunter’s most recent extension — upping his annual salary to approximately $3 million — was alleged to have been reviewed only by one attorney, since deceased, without full approval of the executive committee.

The NBPA statement includes a summary of the controversy from Hunter:

“While the external report contains various recommendations in several key areas, it is incumbent upon the Executive Director, Executive Committee, and Player Representatives to ensure the smooth operation of the union. In my work for the NBPA, my priority has always been to promote the interests of the players.  Through the benefit of hindsight, as with any executive, there are always things that could have been done better, ” added Hunter.

It will be up to the league’s player reps, and overall union membership, at All-Star Weekend to decide if the moves are better late than never. Or more barn door closed after the horse is gone.

Union Chief Hunter Faces More Scrutiny, Acts On Nepotism Claim In Report

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.

Report May Jeopardize Billy Hunter’s Fate As NBPA Executive Director

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A report strongly critical of NBA union executive director Billy Hunter, released Thursday by an independent law firm hired by the players, could lead to Hunter’s ouster.

The investigation, authorized in April 2012 by the National Basketball Players Association, focused on Hunter’s business practices, possible misuse of union funds and allegations of nepotism and conflicts of interest. It was conducted by Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison.

The findings? Hunter did nothing that would rise to the level of “criminal acts.” But he did violate “fiduciary obligations” to put the union’s interests ahead of his own and “did not properly manage conflicts of interest.”

The 469-page document, along with a 39-page executive summary, concluded: “Based on the findings of this report, the BPA should consider whether Mr. Hunter should remain as the Union’s Executive Director and whether new and more effective controls should be enacted to govern the NBPA, its Foundation and its Executive Director, whoever that may be.”

The independent review and financial audit sprang from union in-fighting that came in the wake of last season’s lockout and eventual settlement. The U.S. Attorney’s office in Manhattan also has been investigating NBPA business practices.

In a statement released late Thursday afternoon, Hunter said: “While I strongly disagree with some of the findings contained in the report, I am pleased it recognized that I have not engaged in criminal acts nor was I involved in misappropriation of union funds. … In my work for the NBPA, my priority has always been to promote the interests of the players.”

Union president Derek Fisher – whose attempted ouster by the Executive Committee led to the Paul, Weiss investigation – issued a statement saying he looked forward to reviewing the report’s findings and recommendations. “As there is an ongoing investigation by the Government as well,” Fisher’s statement read, “I hope that this is a chance for us to become an upstanding, strong organization with the sole purpose of serving the best interests of current and future players.”

Amid tension stemming from the lockout – driven by accusations that the union conceded too much and splintering among the NBPA execs, rank-and-file players, some high-profile NBA stars and a group of elite agents – the Executive Committee voted 8-0 seeking Fisher’s resignation. Fisher refused and instead asked for an audit of the NBPA’s business practices. (Hunter’s stance was that an audit had recently been done, was not necessary and would have cost the union as much as $400,000.)

The NBA declined to comment on the union matter.

Among the findings that could threaten Hunter’s term with the NBPA:

  • The union “never properly approved Mr. Hunter’s current employment contract with the union” as required by its constitution and by-laws. Also, Hunter knew that his contract had not been approved, yet failed to disclose that to the Executive Committee and the player reps. [Hunter, in his statement Thursday, noted: "Regarding my contract … it was ratified by the NBPA Executive Committee and signed by President Derek Fisher. I believe the contract and extensions are valid."]
  • Hunter received $1.3 million for “accrued but allegedly unused vacation time (146 days)” without providing an independent review of records or advice to the union on its obligation to make the payment.
  • He involved family and friends in union business as vendors or employees, including daughter Robyn Hunter; daugher-in-law Megan Inaba; Prim Capital, a financial services company where Hunter’s son is a partner, and the law firm Steptoe & Johnson, where daughter Alexis works.
  • Hunter “created an atmosphere at the NBPA that discouraged challenges to his authority.” It cited an instance in which former player and NBPA secretary-treasurer Pat Garrity was stopped by former general counself Gary Hall from talking about potential conflicts of interest.

Hall, who died in May 2011, curiously was the only union attorney involved in negotiating Hunter’s contract. That contract paid him $3 million for the year that began July 1, 2011 and reportedly has three years remaining.

The report also was critical of some business decisions by Hunter and others within the NBPA that showed “poor judgment” or “display insensitivity to conflicts of interest.” Among them:

  • Hunter approved a pay of approximately $28,000 to cover personal legal fees incurred by Charles Smith, a former Executive Director fo the National Basketball Retired Players Association.
  • He “spent union funds on luxury gifts for Executive Committee members, including nearly $22,000 for a watch he gave to Derek Fisher in June 2010.”
  • He made “questionable choices” when charging travel expenses to the union, pursued “atypical” business ventures as potential NBPA investments and ran the NBPA Foundation “without regard for its by-laws or governance standards applicable to non-profit entities.”

Fisher, members of the Executive Committee and even player reps are cited in the report for not properly monitoring Hunter’s activities or following union procedures. For example, Fisher did not put Hunter’s contract to a vote, as required by the by-laws.

That contract pays Hunter approximately $500,000 more than NFLPA head DeMaurice Smith receives and double or triple what their MLB and NHL counterparts are paid. Hunter’s salary jumped by $600,000 on the day the 2011-12 lockout began.

Now 70, Hunter assumed the role of Executive Director in 1996 and steered the NBPA through two lockouts that resulted in shortened regular seasons. He negotiated every NBA collective bargaining agreement in that time with the league’s owners and familiar adversary, commissioner David Stern.

Prior to this involvement with the NBPA, Hunter played professional football for the NFL’s Washington and Miami franchises and worked as a U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of California at San Francisco.

The question now, as labor unrest in the NBA takes on a post-lockout meaning and tilts one way, is: Does he stay or does he go?

Or as the report itself asked, Should Mr. Hunter remain as Executive Director? Here is how it summarized, leaving the hard choices up to the NBPA’s and Hunter’s willingness to fight:

“The Player Representatives and the Executive Committee could decide that it is possible for Mr. Hunter to rectify the problems he has created and serve as an effective Executive Director in the future despite the issues of the past. Should they decide to permit Mr. Hunter to continue leading the Union, they may wish to retain independent counsel to negotiate a new employment contract…”

It continues:

“But the Union need not keep Mr. Hunter. If the NBPA’s Player Representatives and Executive Committee members decide for any reason that the Union deserves a fresh start, they are free to do so. They may choose not to ratify or renegotiate Mr. Hunter’s employment agreement, appoint an acting Executive Director and authorize a search for a new Executive Director.”

TNT analyst David Aldridge contributed to this report.

Lockout Just A Painful Memory Now

“Do Not Open Till Christmas.” It’s something that is so magical when it’s written across brightly wrapped packages arranged under a tree, but sure can look miserable when it’s slapped across the entirety of the NBA regular-season schedule.

Everyone found that out last year, when a bitter labor lockout chopped 16 games, most of the preseason and nearly three months off each team’s 2011-12 season.

For perspective, think of all the games, stories, moments and highlights generated already in 2012-13 — with about 70 percent of the schedule still to be played. Now, think about all that was lost –- beyond whatever financial or stability gains were achieved by the warring owners and players in their CBA talks –- as everyone waited and wondered and worried for the NBA to begin last season.

The league won’t be celebrating any sort of anniversary on Tuesday. The five games stacked up that day will be special -– Christmas games always are -– but they won’t be extra-special in the way the holiday and Opening Day got rolled into one, pulling a season back from the brink.

Boston coach Doc Rivers, asked recently for his takeaway from last year’s lockout, said: “I got to see a lot of Duke games [where his son Austin Rivers played] –- I thought that was terrific. I got to go to Hawaii, to the Maui Classic –- I thought that was fantastic. My [golf] handicap was as low as it’s been in years. And then we had a whole season, in my mind. And that was terrific.

“I’m gonna stop there.”

Houston coach Kevin McHale was even more circumspect. He stared blankly, then raised his gaze to the ceiling when asked for his lockout memories. “I’m trying to think if there was anything good,” he said. Of his glassy expression, he added: “It keeps me from getting in trouble.”

Muzzled under penalty of hefty fines, NBA personnel avoided talking about the lockout last season like it was a pass-around fruitcake. It remains something about which many folks in and around the league would rather not speak, because it was one of the NBA’s more regrettable episodes.

Oh, it wasn’t as bad as the lockout that chopped the 1998-99 season down to just 50 games per team. But it was bad in its own right, costing them all hundreds of millions of dollars and forcing a hurried-up, ground-down product on the public.

“Pointless,” Miami’s Dwyane Wade called it the other night. “We ain’t going to go into all that -– I just think it was a pointless lockout.” (more…)