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Fishy stuff in NBA Players' association: Should Fisher replace Hunter?

NBPA Meet To Discuss Current CBA Offer

Billy Hunter (background), Executive Director of the National Basketball Players Association and Derek Fisher, President of the National Basketball Players Association

This week, Bill Simmons a.k.a. Sports Guy wrote a scathing piece about how the collective bargaining agreement arrived at under the leadership of Billy Hunter has jettisoned the interests of the players. Now that Billy Hunter has been ousted by the players association, all the grievances which may have been withheld under fear of retribution from him are gone. And the chips keep falling against Billy. The agreement arrived at, favoured the owners more than the players with the players’ share in revenues going down from 57% to 50%. One would think that it was because of dire times. But the Grizzlies and Hornets were sold to new owners for good value after the end of the lockout, proving that it is still a lucrative business.

Last year, the NBA season was a shortened one as it followed a lockout. A lockout between billionaire owners and millionaire players is something largely incomprehensible for those whose salaries don’t touch stratospheric figures. Shortly after the 2011 lockout, Fisher pushed for an outside audit of Hunter’s management. That audit ran for nine months and it determined that Hunter had failed in his fiduciary responsibilities as the executive director.

“Going forward, we will no longer be divided, misled, misinformed. This is our union, and we have taken it back.”- said Derek Fisher.

Speaking of being misinformed, Fisher here is the pot calling the kettle black. But we’ll come to that later. Billy Hunter has just been fired as the executive director of the NBA players union. It wasn’t a slow and deliberate process. It took exactly 3 minutes and 30 seconds to end the sixteen and a half year tenure of Hunter. That’s how long it took for the players to unanimously vote to oust him. Although the voting was preceded by a two hour meeting which was attended by around 40 players, during which Hunter was not present as he wasn’t invited, the actual voting didn’t take long. The vote stood at 24-0 against Hunter as six teams were not represented at the meeting.

“I do not consider this vote the end, only a different beginning.” Hunter said. The beginning he’s referring to will probably drag on for a long while in the courts. Billy Hunter holds credit for guiding the players through three collective bargaining agreements and helping bring their average salaries to more than $5 million, the highest in team sports. Admittedly, however, that figure can be picked apart if you consider mean salaries instead of average salaries, or if you consider the number of players in an NFL team and the number of players on a NBA team.

“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”, said Hunter. Being heard doesn’t necessarily mean being placated though. And one of the best players in the NBA was squarely in favour of the removal of Hunter. “LeBron really stepped up, led the charge,” said one official in the NBPA meeting. “His voice was heard. It was great, and it was important.”

The reason for LeBron’s vehemence was clear: the CBA did not look to take care of the superstars as much as the other players. Jerry Stackhouse said. “Our superstars got somewhat alienated under Hunter because there was so much focus on the middle class and the lower-level guys. It was somewhat of a ‘divide-and-conquer’ [strategy] … it sounds great that you created a [higher] average salary and all of this type of thing, but it was more [about] having more of those guys on your side, even though it’s a superstar-driven league.” Instead of the players bickering among themselves, they chose to turn against a common target. Out goes Hunter, in comes Ron, for the time being.

Currently, Ron Klempner, the union’s deputy counsel, is serving as the interim executive director. On one hand people are saying that Derek Fisher is the logical replacement for Hunter. On the other, some players are saying that Hunter ran rampant in the presence of Fisher. If Fisher could not prevent that, how can he be a better representative now? Fisher has said, “We want to make it clear that we are here to serve only the best interests of the players. No threats, no lies, no distractions will stop us from serving our membership. We do not doubt that this process will possibly continue in an ugly way.” Speaking of lies, Fisher is no stranger. Coming to that shortly.

A new executive committee has been elected by the players. The new members are Stackhouse, James Jones, Roger Mason Jr., Chris Paul, Andre Iguodala, Stephen Curry and Willie Green. They will join Matt Bonner and Derek Fisher. Hunter failed to get proper player representative approval for his five-year, $15 million contract extension in 2010.

Philadelphia 76ers v Dallas Mavericks

Funnily enough, the buildup to the firing of Hunter coincides with Fisher’s leave from the Dallas Mavericks. He had problems with his knee so he requested the Mavericks to release him so he could take a break from basketball and be with his family, specifically his kids. 65 days later, during which Hunter was ousted, Fisher signed with the OKC Thunder without so much as a heads up to the Mavericks.

“Look, I understand completely,” Mark Cuban, Mavericks owner, said. “From the time Derek was here to his signing with OKC, his kids are older, they can deal with things better. So I understand him having more comfort in being away from them. A lot can happen in 65 days. His kids are older now,” he added. “It’s easier to fly in and out of Oklahoma City than it is Dallas. I understand that. It’s just a decision a parent has to make. Every parent has difficult decisions to make.”

That’s Mark Cuban at his sarcastic best. The least Fisher could have done was play it above board with the Mavericks organization and inform them of his return to basketball. Everyone had assumed that he intended to retire. But family comes first. As it did for Billy Hunter, who, in order to avid accusations of nepotism, fired his family members from the organization. Although Hunter had defended hiring his family members, he said firing them was necessary. “I decided that I didn’t want that to be a distraction. Very difficult,” Hunter said. “But I did what I had to do. It’s had a negative impact on my family. It’s been very stressful. And I obviously worry about their health. I worry about the impact it’s had on my wife. I think pretty much my family looks at me, as long as they see me continuing to be strong, then they kind of take solace in that.”

That smells of a guilty conscience. Once the auditors begin to circle in, away goes the evidence. Sort of like a doorbell going off and prompting a guilty party in the room to jump out of the window. The audit has resulted in the removal of Hunter. The audit was pushed for by Fisher. But is he really the man to take up the mantle?

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