Friday, February 15, 2013
Billy Hunter's last showdown
By Henry Abbott
All-Star Weekend always has its share of excitement. This year, some of it promises to be at the Players Association meetings, which insiders predict will serve as the end of Billy Hunter's time at the head of the union.
What we know is that in the main player meeting, set for Saturday afternoon, players will be briefed on a recent report about Hunter's business practices. Hunter needs the support of two-thirds of the 30 team representatives to keep his job. Hunter does have some supporters in that group, but it's impossible to find anybody who thinks he can find the twenty he needs to stay on.
But that doesn't mean there won't be drama.
In a January letter to his clients, agent Arn Tellem wrote:
I urge you to ask your player representatives to instruct Mr. Hunter not to attend the players meeting during the All-Star Game so that he cannot continue to intimidate and manipulate. In fact, no union employee should be allowed to attend the event. This would ensure that the independent law firm can present its findings directly to the players and answer their questions. Players should meet the investigators with no outsiders present. Otherwise, players could be pressured while discussing and making recommendations about Mr. Hunter’s future.
Hunter can be fiery and convincing. It's a skill that has served players in negotiations with the NBA. It has also served to squelch (Tellem would say "intimidate") those like Pat Garrity and Derek Fisher who have both questioned his business practices. Regardless, player reps have heard complaints about Hunter for years and Hunter's force of personality has, by numerous insider accounts, been the driving force preventing them from taking action.
So, will Hunter be in Houston, and will he be allowed to address the players?
Indeed, Hunter might show up! That's the word. As of late Thursday, that's still unresolved. (UPDATE: On Friday, Hunter's attorneys reportedly said Hunter would not attend.) His personal attorneys have been arguing he is entitled to state his case.
Yes, that's creating some tension.
The meeting, which will be run by interim union head Ron Klempner and president Derek Fisher has been intentionally scheduled at a time and place that would make it very easy for superstars to attend after All-Star practice concludes. The presence of stars, the thinking goes, could embolden players to imagine life after Hunter. (Theoretically it could also lend Hunter critical support, should any stars see his point of view.)
Even assuming the predictions are right and Hunter can't save his job, there's still plenty to be worked out. For instance, will the players pay Hunter to go away? How much? And what about a replacement? Who'll conduct the search? Is Derek Fisher, who said on Twitter he is not interested, a candidate to take over?
I'm told finding the next leader of the union will likely take until July to identify, if not longer.
So while the there should be plenty of drama for the Players Association on All-Star Saturday afternoon, there won't be excitement on Saturday night, like most All-Star weekends. The union traditionally hosts a show-stopping, seven-figure budget, star-studded gala on All-Star Saturdays. That was such a pet project of Hunter's that he actually negotiated into the CBA that players would have the right to attend.
This year, owing to all the drama surrounding the union and Hunter, that party is cancelled. As for the players' right to party? They'll have to exercise that elsewhere.