On February 16, in the midst of the National Basketball Association’s (NBA) All-Star weekend, members of the National Basketball Players Association (NBPA) unanimously voted to oust Billy Hunter as the union’s executive director.
“This is our union and we have taken it back,” National Basketball Players Association president Derek Fisher said, as reported by ESPN.com. Fisher said the union had been “divided, misled, [and] misinformed,” by its leader. Hunter hinted in a statement that he might contest his firing in court.
As the union’s leader since 1996, Hunter negotiated three collective bargaining agreements for NBA players, contributing to raising their average salaries to more than $5 million, the highest in team sports.
Conflicts between Fisher and Hunter divided union members during the 2011 NBA lockout. According to ESPN.com, “agents didn’t like [Hunter], questioning his bargaining strategies, and they were frustrated they didn’t have a bigger role in his union.”
After Hunter was accused of numerous indiscretions, Fisher pushed for a review of him. In its review, an independent law firm criticized Hunter for various conflicts of interests and poor decisions, such as hiring family members and friends and billing the NBPA for questionable travel and gift expenses. The review did not find Hunter guilty of any criminal activity, but three government investigations of Hunter are ongoing.
After the review was released, the members of the NBPA put Hunter on a leave of absence. About 35 NBA players attended the union committee’s annual meeting in February to discuss Hunter’s future.
NBA superstar LeBron James and longtime player Jerry Stackhouse reportedly took the lead in arguing for Hunter’s dismissal, according to the New York Times. James’s involvement was unusual: league superstars rarely get involved in the nitty gritty of labor negotiations and union management.
James “practically cross-examined the lawyers to prepared the report on Hunter,” the Times reports. And he and Stackhouse demanded explanations from committee members who previously had sided with Hunter rather than Fisher.
NBA players widely respect James for his business savvy and interpersonal skills. So it was not surprising, given James’s forceful arguments against Hunter, that the committee voted unanimously to release Hunter from his duties.
The situation speaks to the power of convincing influential parties to lead important negotiations. One well-respected and admired leader may be uniquely posited to wrap up a negotiation that took many behind-the-scenes players to engineer.
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