Posts Tagged ‘National Basketball Players Association’

Dooling’s book tells tale of abuse, breakdown and big bounce back

Keyon Dooling, the 10th pick of the 2000 Draft, had a 13-year NBA career. (Rocky Widner/NBAE)

Keyon Dooling, the 10th pick of the 2000 Draft, had a 13-year NBA career. (Rocky Widner/NBAE)

Through his teen years and his entire adult life, Keyon Dooling pushed forward, played basketball and plowed down a secret that stayed alive no matter how many shovels of dirt he threw on it.

Two years ago, that secret seized up on him and brought him to his knees. Yet, from that low point, Dooling managed to look his demons in the eye and stare them down.

This summer, Dooling has shared his troubling yet uplifting story in a book, “What’s Driving You??? How I Overcame Abuse and Learned to Lead in the NBA.” Ultimately, it is a book about the former NBA guard’s healing and his desire to help others heal, too.

“I went through some things in the last two years,” Dooling said on the phone recently. “So I wrote a story. It’s a great story, it’s a basketball story, it’s a life story, it’s a social story. It’s a story of triumph. I just want to make sure I get the message out there.

“I had bottled up so many emotions. I talk about my NBA experiences to connect the audience with the ball-playing side. But the story itself is totally different from the basketball experience. A lot of people don’t talk about this subject.”

whatsdrivingyouPublished last month by TriMark Press, the paperback memoir recounts a life that some NBA fans might recall only from some unnerving headlines a couple years ago. It covers Dooling’s career as a hoops overachiever, from starring in high school in Fort Lauderdale and showing enough in two years at the University of Missouri to be picked 10th in the 2000 Draft, to playing 12-plus seasons for seven NBA teams.

More than that, though, the book traces struggles in his life to the sexual abuse he endured as a boy at the hands, initially, of a teenaged neighborhood friend. Later, there were adult men and women who preyed on him.

“You have to put yourself in a vulnerable place to relive and tell and inspire and motivate. It’s very tough to do,” Dooling said. “I had to get a lot of therapy to have the tools to manage all the different emotions. But I’ve done my work. I’ve dealt with it.

“I’ve packaged up healing in this project. That’s really what my goal is, to allow people to see a piece of themselves in the story so they can find healing.”

This new, healthiest time in Dooling’s life was triggered by an incident in June 2012 in a Seattle restaurant that took him back to his darkest memories. A patron in the men’s room made an inappropriate advance. Dooling had just wrapped up one of the most satisfying seasons of his career, helping the Boston Celtics reach Game 7 of the East finals. But the anger that confrontation uncorked wasn’t going to just blow over, as he writes in the book:

 

At three o’clock in the morning, I decided to go for a walk outside to try to lose the rage. I practiced breathing techniques to calm myself down – when that didn’t do the trick, I tried calling on the Lord to help me. Nothing was working. Finally I called my wife, Natosha (she was back in Florida and probably still asleep) and told her about what happened at the restaurant that night. I still hadn’t told her about what happened to me when I was a child.

I had no words for that.

After talking with ‘Tosha for a while, I started to feel more relaxed. She prayed with me and told me everything would be all right. A little ray of light started growing inside me then thanks to her.

Still, I couldn’t hide what was happening from myself.

An emotional vault that had been locked inside me for years had unexpectedly opened…

 

Dooling’s breakdown landed him in a mental-health facility in Boston. He turned to then-Celtics coach Doc Rivers, who spent long hours with him there, a place that — given the severity of other patients’ mental issues — struck Rivers as unsafe. He and some medical officials enlisted by the National Basketball Players Association helped get Dooling moved to a better environment.

“He was in this emotional state and he kept apologizing about letting the team down,” Rivers told the Boston Globe last year. “I kept saying, ‘We’re going to survive.’ You just knew emotionally, he wasn’t right. I didn’t know what was going on but I just knew emotionally he was in a bad place, and even a dark place. I was concerned for his life.”

The treatment Dooling eventually received put him on his path to recovery. But when he abruptly decided to retire from the NBA (despite a one-year extension with Boston) , family, friends and fans were puzzled, unaware of the secret he harbored.

The story of his abuse came out after Dooling sought and found the therapy he needed. By late 2012, he was comfortable speaking about it, and he and Natosha even appeared on Katie Couric‘s talk show.

But there was no one-and-done to this type of thing, Dooling learned. Any time he had cracked open the lid on his secret previously — he wrote a letter to himself back in 2011, when he was with Milwaukee, full of questions that elicited no answers — he had backed away. Facing and living with his issues was going to come incrementally as well.

“There’s no blueprint to deal with the emotions, because people who survive it usually don’t tell,” Dooling said. “I had people in my family who didn’t believe me, that created one emotion. I had other people who did believe me, that created another emotion of support. I was insecure about some of the things and then, I was angry about some of them as well.

“It took time to learn how to deal with those types of emotions that, as an athlete, I didn’t even allow myself to feel.”

In April 2013, a month shy of 33, Dooling signed with Memphis in hopes of resuming his NBA career. He played in seven regular-season games down the stretch, then averaged just 1.9 points and 8.1 minutes in 14 playoff appearances for the Grizzlies. His game essentially was gone.

His life had changed. It was getting better. So much that Dooling rarely has any what-if reflections.

“At this point, I still would have been able to play if I hadn’t had that breakdown. That was my doom as far as being a player in the NBA,” he said. “Personally, I would have been in a better position if I had gotten my work done earlier. Because I’m such a better person from doing that work.”

Today, back home in South Florida, Dooling is a certified life coach as well as a published author itching for his next project. He works with people of all stripes, including some NBA players, but declines to offer details in deference to sensitivity and confidentiality.

His family — Natosha, daughters Deneal (13), Gabrielle (10) and Jordan (7), and son Keyon Jr. (4), who is on the cover of the book with his dad — are healthy and happy, Dooling says, thanks to many hours of therapy for them all. Some in his extended family still are grappling with the issues he revealed.

His book is the centerpiece of his Web site, www.whatsdrivingyou.net It features artwork that complements his story and provides links to purchase the book and to download music from iTunes that provided the soundtrack of Dooling’s recovery. Portions of the proceeds from the book are donated to the Respect Foundation at www.RespectFoundation55.org.

Once a month, Dooling said, he opens up his Twitter account at @AmbassadorKD to anyone “still in the closet” about being molested or those — particularly men — who need someone with whom they can speak freely (via Twitter’s private DMs), if therapists, clergy or others aren’t current options.

“I knew I had to go through my test to get to this testimony,” he said. “I would be doing an injustice if I didn’t become a witness and help them get through some of their issues.”

Dooling, in time, would like to return to the NBA as a coach. His playing experiences and exposure to multiple systems have him covered on the basketball side. He gained leadership skills as a player and a union vice president. But the life lessons, what he can share in coping with personal pressures and problems, might kick his resume to another level.

“We’ve been treating the symptoms,” Dooling said. “You see it sometimes in guys who get DUIs. You see behavioral issues with guys maybe having multiple children out of wedlock. Guys overspending, overeating, masking with liquor or drugs.

“So often, we’ve been treating the symptoms and not the real issues. My whole thing is, let’s talk about some of these things we went through in our past so it doesn’t affect the future.”

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.

Silver Offers Glimpse Of The Fan Within


VIDEO: Commissioner Adam Silver’s opening statement at All-Star 2014

NEW ORLEANS – In the first few minutes of his most notable public appearance to date as the NBA’s newly minted commissioner, Adam Silver may have given people a greater glimpse into what drives him than David Stern, his predecessor, offered in 30 years.

Silver worked solo Saturday night at the annual state-of-the-league All-Star Weekend media session that Stern – part Borscht Belt stand-up act, part bully pulpit – handled so masterfully through the years. After a series of acknowledgements (including one to Stern, who is in Aspen this weekend), Silver offered an “Intro to Adam” that showed the beating heart of a diehard basketball fan.

“The league has certainly changed my life. The game of basketball has,” Silver said, a little nervous and emotional as he spoke of some of the mileposts in his journey to this night. “When I was younger, when my parents were first divorced, basketball is what bonded my father and I together.”

Silver, 51, is a native New Yorker, the youngest of four children. He grew up as a Knicks fan, played on a junior league team in grade school and eventually attended Duke University, where students choose their majors but basketball is nearly everyone’s minor.

“I was never a paint-your-face kind of kid,” Silver said. “[But] when I was there, I experienced some of the best college basketball maybe ever.”

Silver spoke of ACC stars, of Ralph Sampson and Gene Banks, of Michael Jordan and Sam Perkins. “I would say that had enormous meaning on my life,” he said, “and it was only sort of back then that I think I started to understand how meaningful this game of basketball is to so many people, and the impact it has on so many people’s lives.”

Silver joined the NBA in 1992 as a special assistant to Stern before working his way into the deputy commissioner role. He has traveled the world and been intimately involved with most of the league’s big ideas and issues: labor negotiations, television contracts, international initiatives to grow the sport, technological innovation. But his passion for the game stayed close to the surface.

“I’ve been with the league so long that if there were issues that I thought required immediate attention, I would like to think in partnership with David we would have addressed those,” Silver said. “The coming together of the larger community of basketball is probably my priority, and that means focusing on the game all the way up from the young level through college to the pros.”

Los Angeles Clippers guard Chris Paul, president of the National Basketball Players Association, already has begun working with Silver on multiple fronts. “Adam has been unbelievable, wonderful,” Paul said this weekend, “in talking with us about increasing the dialogue between the players and NBA front offices.”

But Silver’s news conference was a coming-out moment that kicked off All-Star Saturday night, shared with a roomful and a global TV audience. He worked his way through a number of questions:

  • Asked about technology, Silver quickly balanced that by citing transparency as one of his “guiding principles,” through the use of replays in officiating but elsewhere too. “Transparency in how decisions are made at the league office, transparency in how we deal with our players and the Players Association,” Silver said.
  • Silver said he wasn’t looking to alter Stern’s approach, sounding more like he’d build on it in exploring new opportunities and markets. His respect and fondness for his former boss and mentor were evident. “It goes without saying that virtually none of us would be here without David,” Silver said, congratulating the “commissioner emeritus” on his direct election Friday into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.
  • Like Stern, Silver is an advocate of adding a year to the current eligibility rule for young players to enter the NBA Draft. Bumping the minimum age to 20 years old and turning prospects’ college careers into two-and-done would help both the NBA and the NCAA, he said, which he considers appropriate. “If players have an opportunity to mature as players and as people, for a longer amount of time, before they come into the league, it will be a better league,” he said.
  • “Tanking,” a buzzword this season as teams consider the depth of the 2014 Draft, conjures teams “losing games on purpose,” Silver said. “There’s absolutely no evidence that any team in the NBA has ever lost a single game – or certainly, in any time that I’ve been in the league – on purpose.” Rebuilding is something quite different. But Silver sounded open to adjusting the lottery system or odds, as needed.
  • An area in which Silver brings his greatest expertise, and has gained the most trust from 30 owners, is television. Negotiations of the next TV deal are ongoing, with blockbuster expectations attached. As for those who feel that broadcast coverage has been crowded out by cable – affecting fans who don’t have or might not be able to afford cable, where all of All-Star Weekend could be found – that world has changed. “It really to me is the quality of the coverage and the ability to reach homes in America,” Silver said, “which we’re doing now.”
  • Silver talked again about the refinement of the league’s use of instant replay, improving the system while heeding the flow of games. Going to an off-site central replay system “similar to what the NHL does right now,” with plays reviewed more swiftly and consistently, sounds like merely a matter of time.
  • Sleeved jerseys? Silver said he’s sensitive to player concerns but reaction has been mixed and statistics show no adverse effects on performance. Meanwhile, apparel sales have been strong, he said. “On one hand, people keep encouraging me to try new things,” the commissioner said, “and then when we try something new, people say you’ve lost your mind. … It’s something we’re trying. We’re having some fun with it. Long-term, we’ll see.”
  • Those jerseys do provide more acreage for ads, and ads on game jerseys don’t face the same threat of zapping that conventional commercials do. “Those live images are critically important to our marketing partners,” he said. “I think it ultimately will happen.”
  • Expansion, domestically or internationally, does not rank high on Silver’s list. The financial viability and competitive strength of the NBA’s existing teams matters more.
  • The goals espoused during the 2011 lockout – greater financial health and more competitive balance – are playing out in Silver’s view. “The fact that we had four teams in the conference finals last year who are all in the bottom half of the league in terms of market size is a strong indication,” he said.
  • Despite concerns that the players association has not hired a replacement for deposed executive director Billy Hunter after more than a year, Silver said the delay has not squelched dealings with the union. Acting director Ron Klempner is available to address the most pressing issues, and the current CBA can’t be reopened by either side until 2017.

Here again, Silver’s sense of stewardship for the game and the league emerged. He sounded very much in sync, frankly, with comments earlier in the day that came from the NBPA’s player-rep meeting.

Silver said it is important for the players to understand that collective bargaining is only “one small aspect of what their union is there for.” He spoke of pensions, health care and other topics, not necessarily related to wrangling over the 50-50 split between players and owners of NBA revenue.

“Their greatest incentive should be to grow this league with us,” Silver said. “That’s going to have such a greater impact ultimately on their salaries than sort of tinkering around with the percentages of [basketball-related income].

“So I’m looking forward to dealing with a partner in this league, not an adversary, a partner that’s going to continue to build this league with me and with the league.”


VIDEO: Commissioner Silver on the issue of “tanking”

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.”

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.

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.