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What kind of negotiator is union head Billy Hunter?

Aug 15, 2011, 10:37 AM EDT

Billy Hunter AP

We know David Stern. Or, at least we think we know David Stern. We kind of have a picture of him as the smooth lawyer who plays the PR game when the cameras are on then is blunt and plays hardball at the negotiating table.

But how much do we really know about the guy across the table from him?

Billy Hunter has a fascinating life story, has the trust of most players (if not their agents) and has been at this table with Stern before. But what do we really know about how he negotiates. The Portland Tribune talked to some former NBA players to find out.

They say he is charismatic and knowledgeable. One called him enough of a “wild card” that he comes off as a bit scary to the league, a good thing for the players.

“He has his own agenda,” one former player tells me. “He’s about Billy. He doesn’t have the overall well-being of all the players in mind.”

Stern himself has tried to play to that notion, trying to suggest that the rank-and-file players would be the losers, that they are the ones who would miss out if stars start going overseas.

It doesn’t matter, this isn’t like last lockout where the union will show cracks. At least not for so long the owners solidarity will be showing cracks as well. The players have known what is coming for a long time and are better prepared this time around. They are more unified. They are better informed.

Everyone may not love his plan (going to the National Labor Relations Board), but the players are behind Billy Hunter and Derek Fisher (the union president). If the owners really are in this to break the union, this lockout is going to be longer and uglier than anyone anticipated.

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