When Power Corrupts: The NBPA

Posted by C.L. Anthony on Saturday, February 16, 2013 with No comments
I was always taught to never bite the hand that feeds you and it's a life lesson that's ingrained into my being.  When leagues are battling against unions in sports, the league usually wins but if the union isn't strong then the league can impose its will with much more force and that's what the NBA's Players union experienced during the summer of 2011.  During the last NBA lockout, The Hardwood Nation broke away from the media glossed lockout coverage and delivered the following truths to fans of the NBA all around the world:

  1. The NBA Lockout was owner imposed
  2. NBA Players never asked for more money
  3. The owners wanted to crush the will of the NBA's Superstars
  4. Union Director Billy Hunter and President Derek Fisher were at odds 

The tension between Union Director Billy Hunter and Union President Derek Fisher could be seen for miles.  Once strong allies, the pressure of delivering the best deal to their players grew on both but it was Fisher who caved first.  After months of tense negotiating sessions, it was Derek Fisher, who according to reports, was ready to deliver an owner friendly side deal to end the lockout and make himself out as the hero while Hunter fought for the principle in the matter and wanted to hold the owners to the agreement that they fought so hard to secure in 1998.  Mainstream media (ESPN) delivered to its fans NBA friendly lockout coverage due to the two entities being business partners.  During 2007 the NBA signed a contract with both ESPN and TNT that would pay the league $930 million a year through the 2015/16 season.  At the time of the signing, NBA Commissioner stated the following:

"I consider this to be a wonderful vote of confidence by our very sophisticated network partners who are making such a substantial and long-term commitment," NBA commissioner David Stern said.

The truth was never going to properly be told, there was too much money involved to keep it under wraps.  The NBA owners wanted the infighting in the union to continue because they knew that they could easily defeat a fracture union and it continues.  

After denying reports of tension, Union President Derek Fisher finally displayed his true colors by accusing Union Director of wrong doing and hired an independent firm to investigate Hunter.  Fisher also went as far as to threaten legal action against anyone in the media who spoke out against him i.e. Jason Whitlock of Foxsports.com.  So wait, you accuse someone of wrong doing but when your motives are called out you threaten legal action.......ok?

It was April 15th when Fisher hired the services of Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison to investigate the Union's business practices in hope that he would find illegal wrong doing on the part of Hunter so that he could be ousted.  Nine long months later Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison, released their finding to the world.  

Our first objective was to identify potential criminal wrongdoing.  After an 
exhaustive review of tens of thousands of pages of  documents, including years of Union 
financial records and emails, and after evaluating statements made by more than three dozen 
witnesses, we conclude that the evidence does not show that Mr. Hunter embezzled or stole 
money from the NBPA.  

But our inquiry was not confined to criminal misconduct.  We have 
concluded that, at times, Mr. Hunter took actions that were inconsistent with his fiduciary 
obligations to the NBPA, displayed poor judgment, paid little attention to the appearance of  
impropriety that his conduct could foreseeably create and did not properly manage conflicts of 
interest.  We cannot say that he alone was responsible in all instances for these missteps, for we 
believe that the NBPA lacked important systemic controls involving basic principles of corporate 
governance, including the management of self-dealing transactions, and that other Union 
representatives did not always satisfy their own responsibilities.  Yet as the chief executive 
officer of the Union, Mr. Hunter stands responsible for ensuring that such controls be put in 
place.  In this important task he failed.

Never told the Union’s Executive Committee or Player Representatives 
that his current employment contract, which was executed in 2010, was 
not properly approved under the Union’s By-Laws, even though by at least 
November 2011 outside counsel to the Union had told Mr. Hunter that the 
necessary approval had not occurred and remained necessary; 

Obtained the Union’s agreement to pay him $1.3 million for accrued but 
allegedly unused vacation time (146 days) without adequate independent 
review of underlying records and without securing independent advice for 
the Union on its obligation to make the payment; 

Involved family and friends in Union business as employees or vendors 
without full disclosure and the disinterested approval of the Union’s 
officers and directors; and 

Created an atmosphere at the NBPA that discouraged  challenges to his 
authority, including by allowing the Union’s former General Counsel, 
Gary Hall, to stop former Secretary-Treasurer Pat Garrity from speaking 
freely about conflicts of interest to the Executive Committee.

Considered what would have been a risky investment  of millions of 
dollars in ISN Bank, a failing financial institution, without disclosure to 
the Executive Committee that his son Todd was then  a director of the 
bank, and spent more than $80,000 in due diligence  expenses before 
abandoning the transaction; 

Approved a payment by the Union of approximately $28,000 to cover 
personal legal fees incurred by Charles Smith, the  former Executive 
Director of the National Basketball Retired Players Association 

Made questionable choices when charging travel expenses to the Union, 
which at a minimum create the appearance that he has taken undue 
advantage of the discretion he possesses to travel  to destinations of his 

Pursued speculative and, for the Union, atypical business ventures as 
potential investments; 

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; 

Failed to observe principles of proper governance at the Union, including 
by neglecting to ensure that the NBPA’s By-Laws were followed and 
appropriate systems were put in place to safeguard against possible misuse 
of Union funds, conflicts and similar risks; and 

Ran the NBPA Foundation (the “Foundation”), a separate entity through 
which the Union supports various charitable organizations, without regard 
for its by-laws or governance standards applicable to non-profit entities. 

It took 9 long months and $4 million spent by the NBPA for the conclusion that Billy Hunter didn't commit anything criminal, hired his son's law firm to receive  the "family discount" on the Union's end and used $22,000 to buy former partner and one time friend Derek Fisher a luxury watch.  This seems to be much to do about nothing and it's ridiculous in its core.  Make no mistake about this was an unnecessary power struggle, one that didn't have to happen.  

If anyone has done anything shady here it's Derek Fisher.  Does one remember when Fisher played for the Dallas Mavericks for a grand total of 9 games earlier this season before abruptly walking away?  Any player on the Players Union must be an active player in the league for any given season....translation....Fisher used the Mavericks to maintain his position of power on the NBPA Executive Committee for another season to finish his unwarranted his on Billy Hunter.

Maurice Evans, 34, was the Executive Vice President of the NBPA and third on the totem pole behind Hunter and Fisher.  He was perhaps Hunter's greatest supporter on the executive committee and he recently spoke with Jason Whitlock about the apparent power struggle and the desire of Derek Fisher to see Hunter relieved.  Evans also touched on why he thinks he's not currently employed in the league after 9 years of being a reliable role player.  

“I give (Derek) a round of applause for being able to pull off this stunt and pull the wool over everyone’s eyes,” Evans said. “If he wants the union that bad — let him and Ron Klempner and Jamie Wior — they can have it....Without a doubt, I know me not being in the league has something to do with my support of Billy Hunter.....I’m fully comfortable not playing in the NBA ever again....They excommunicated your boy,” Evans said. “They took my tickets, took my little status as executive vice president.”

Evans didn't hold back the punches and even went for the jugular of Derek Fisher and how he used the Mavericks as I mentioned earlier.  

“They were able to circumvent (the system) by putting him on a team for a day and a half so he could be reinstated as president,” Evans claimed. “I don’t know who (are) the powers that be to put that in place, but D. Fish was only on the Mavericks this year so they could pull this stunt off, so they could get Billy Hunter out of office.”

Once the NBA Lockout of 2011 had ended, The NBPA executive committee voted 8-0 to have Derek Fisher removed from his position of power as many worried about his relationship with David Stern.  If Fisher was voted out, how was he able to maintain his position, shouldn't that be investigated as well?

“Of course (the players) have questions about Derek,” Evans said. “But Derek has done a great job of being on the offensive and only pointing the finger at Mr. Hunter. (Derek) has been busy throwing darts and throwing dirt at (Hunter) that nobody has ever taken the time to stop and ask what is Derek’s motive. What really went on in Dallas that he left to go and say now all of sudden he has family issues, he misses his family?  Now all of sudden what really happened? We voted him out 8-0 as president and yet he still stayed on, didn’t blink twice and came back with Paul-Weiss, and now they’re running the union.”
The members of the NBPA will meet Saturday afternoon and determine the fate of Hunter without Hunter being there to defend himself.  Last week Hunter wasn't allowed to enter his office in New York and was escorted away.  This is a mess and there's wrong doing on both sides.  Derek Fisher should not be allowed to have the final say in the fate of Hunter and Fisher himself should be held accountable to attempting to throw the NBPA under the bus during the Lockout of 2011 and also for this witch hunt. Using treacherous tactics and wasting $4 million of the NBPA's money to find no illegal wrong doing is absurd and a complete misuse of time and resources.  If Hunter is indeed removed later today, Fisher must be removed as well and the entire NBPA must be reformed as a more stable and united core because if not the owners will run rough shot over the NBPA again and the results could prove disastrous for the game that we love.