The NBA was locked out following the 2010-11 season for 179 days, leading to the NBA follow the collective bargaining agreement negotiations with a shortened 66-game season. Another direct result of the lockout: the NBPA’s executive director Billy Hunter was relieved of his duties after 17-years of service. This past May, Hunter filed a lawsuit against the NBPA and Derek Fisher for defamation and breach of contract for, at the very least, $10.5 million.
Things between Hunter and the NBPA first began to take a strange turn during an October 28 meeting between the owners and the players association in New York. In a meeting that many believed would be a huge step toward ending the lockout, David Stern and the owners wouldn’t budge from their stance on splitting the Basketball Related Income (BRI) 50-50 while Hunter refused to budge from his stance of 52-48. Instead of making any kind of progress, Hunter walked out on the negations saying everyone was “snookered” by Stern. According to the deputy commissioner Adam Silver, Hunter phone was “ringing off the hook from agents and from players telling me I cannot go under 52 percent. Unless you’re prepared to go there, we have nothing to talk about.”
This, of course, isn’t what started the downward spiral between Hunter and the NBPA. In the midst of Hunter fighting for a 52-48 split for the union NBPA president Derek Fisher allegedly just “sat silently and oddly disengaged during the negotiating session,” as described in Hunter’s 36-page lawsuit against Fisher and the NBPA. Hunter alleges that, at this point, Fisher had already negotiated a 50-50 split behind his back.
According to the complaint, the night before the meeting in New York, Hunter received a phone call from “one of the highest paid players in the NBA and his agent.” The player allegedly told Hunter that a deal had already been cut and that he should just accept the 50-50 split. The player was unnamed in the original 36-page lawsuit.
A month later, a deal was reached between the owners and players with the BRI being split 50-50, and the players losing $1.8 billion in revenue over the next six years, and according to the lawsuit, Fisher is a huge reason in why the owners were able to gain so much ground after the previous CBA had a 57-43 split in favor of the players:
“From the perspective of some of the NBA team owners, however, Hunter had been too successful in advancing the players’ interests. These owners (“Certain Owners”) determined to take back a share of NBA revenues from the players. When the prior collective bargaining agreement expired on June 30, 2001, the NBA locked out the players, resulting in the first NBA work stoppage since 1998. Surprisingly, these Certain Owners received aid in their strategy from an unlikely source, the President of the NBPA – Derek Fisher.”
The document goes on to allege that Fisher had much more to gain in negotiating with the owners than working in the best interest of the union in mind.
“In 2011, Fisher was nearing the end of his playing career. He was in the second year of a three-year contract that could have been his last and was under great pressure to secure a soft landing for himself as his career neared its end. Fisher knew that the key to finding a well-paying position with the NBA or a team’s front office was maintaining good relationships with the NBA and team owners. Also each game cancelled during the lockout represented income that Fisher would never realize and would be unlikely to recover because his remaining playing career was limited. For Fisher, the lockout could not end soon enough. For similar reasons, some of the highest compensated NBA players (“certain players”), and their agents, shared Fisher’s sentiment that the lockout must end.”
Now, according to Howard Beck, one of those “Certain Players” was Bryant, and the player who called Hunter the night before the big CBA meeting in New York on October 28. CBS Sports’ Ken Berger got a hold of a new 21-page document filed by Hunter which provides details about the call Bryant allegedly made the night before.
“Late in the evening before the Waldorf Astoria meeting, I was already in bed for the night when my phone rang,” Hunter wrote in the court filing. “The caller identified himself as the ‘Black Mamba.’ I knew it was Kobe Bryant, a superstar player for the Los Angeles Lakers and the highest paid player in the NBA.”
Bryant informed Hunter that his agent, Pelinka also was on the phone.
At that point, Hunter said that Bryant urged him to accept a 50-50 split of revenue in the meeting the following day and “put this thing to bed. … Do the deal.”
Hunter said Bryant also told him, “I got your back.”
For those scoring at home, Hunter is alleging that Fisher secretly negotiated with certain NBA owners (still yet to be named) behind Hunter’s back to get owners a bigger chunk of the BRI, which would subsequently put him in a better position to either get another paying job as a point guard or a spot in an NBA front office (or both). On top of that, some of the league’s premier players sided with Fisher in hopes to get the deal done as soon as possible to reduce the amount of money they’d make in the upcoming season.
And, naturally, one of those premier players is Bryant, who called Hunter the night before a meeting between the players and owners that many thought a deal would be completed to tell him to accept the 50-50 split that would eventually be agreed upon about a month later.
After all of the lockout dust settled, the NBPA relieved Hunter of his duties with a vote of 24-0 during the All-Star Weekend meetings, meetings in which Hunter says that he wasn’t given an opportunity to tell his side of the story. Berger wrote about this situation in May, and shared details about Hunter’s contract and the grounds in which he could be fired.
According to his contract, Hunter could be fired for cause based on findings of embezzlement, theft, larceny, material fraud or other acts of dishonesty, or for failure to perform his duties after 30 days’ written notice to take corrective action. If fired for cause, Hunter would be contractually entitled to salary and benefits through June 30, 2013.
If fired without cause, Hunter would be contractually entitled to salary and benefits for the remainder of his term, which had been scheduled to run through June 30, 2015.
The NBPA hired the Paul-Weiss firm to investigate the NBPA as a business and found that “hunter had entangled the union in conflicts of interest by hiring family members to union staff positions and had failed to properly manage those conflicts.” Hunter’s daughter and daughter-in-law both had jobs with the NBPA. The union also had a partnership with Prim Capital, a company that employed Hunter’s son, Todd. Despite these findings from the Paul-Weiss firm, Hunter is still suing for at least the $10.5 million he was owed through 2015. There’s no telling how this will be ruled, but it will be decided by the California Superior Court in Los Angeles on a date yet to be determined.
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