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Report: NBA players union paid $4.8 million to director’s family members, their firms

Apr 24, 2012, 3:25 PM EDT

Hunter and Fisher of the NBA speak during news conference to reject NBA's latest offer in New York Reuters

And now we see what is at the heart of the current NBA players union fight — nepotism concerns.

This is already a fight where union president Derek Fisher pushed for an audit and Executive Director Billy Hunter got the union executive committee to call off the audit and call for Fisher to resign. And now you get the feeling this is going to get worse.

The union has been spending millions of dollars to do business with companies and lawfirms tied to Hunter, reports Bloomberg in a well researched story.

The National Basketball Players Association, whose business practices are being questioned by President Derek Fisher, paid almost $4.8 million to Executive Director Billy Hunter’s family members and their professional firms since 2001, according to public records…

Hunter, a former U.S. attorney who led the players through two work stoppages, has a daughter and daughter-in-law on staff at the union. Another daughter is special counsel at a law firm used by the association, and Hunter’s son is a principal at a financial planning and investment firm that last fiscal year was paid $45,526 a month to run the union’s financial awareness program and advise on investments, according to filings with the U.S. Labor Department.

“It’s not a criminal act, but it’s not something I would do,” said Marvin Miller, who led baseball players through three strikes and two lockouts as their salaries rose 12-fold between 1966 and 1982.

Therein lies the issue — this is not illegal. But it raises a whole lot of ethical red flags. You can make the argument that so long as the union is getting the services it pays for — quality legal representation, quality work on investments — that this is legitimate.

But you can bet that this would not be allowed — or would at least be heavily scrutinized — at a public company or government agency. It reeks of nepotism.

For example, Hunter’s daughter Alexis works for Steptoe & Johnson LLP, the firm the union hired during the lockout to file unfair labor practice charge against the NBA with the National Labor Relations Board during the lockout. Before that the league did business with her pervious lawfirm.

The Bloombert report details the union’s connections to a number of Hunter’s relatives. It also notes he made a $2.39 million salary in 2011.

NBPA executive committee member Mo Evans told Bloomberg that nepotism has been discussed by the committee.

Evans told reporters on April 20 that Fisher declined an invitation from the executive committee to defend himself on a conference call with Hunter. Nepotism at the union was among the topics discussed on the call, Evans said.

“Billy answered those questions to our satisfaction, was very open and candid with us, and we were satisfied, and again, the players were disappointed because Derek has yet to address us,” he said.

The executive committee released a statement asking for Fisher to step down and that he is not acting in the best interest of the players. This is getting ugly, and it’s going to get worse before it gets better. And the thing is — and the reason it goes on — is that most of the players could not care less.

  1. Mr. Wright 212 - Apr 24, 2012 at 3:31 PM

    I bet Hunter shut his trap about Fish NOW, won’t he ha?

  2. thraiderskin - Apr 24, 2012 at 3:54 PM

    How can THIS no be illegal. So if and when these organizations fail the players, will these firms be replaced by its competitors of will failures be overlooked. What happens when another firm offers and lower $ number for the same services, does that offer get accepted or ignored. This whole thing is a mess and a complete joke to the purpose of joining a union. None of the players will ever know for sure, to what quality their representation is.

    • somekat - Apr 24, 2012 at 6:31 PM

      Uhhhh…..this is not a government organization. If they get a bid for services from person A, then get bid for services from person B, they have every right to go with person B. They are a private union. If their members don’t have a problem with it, then it isn’t a problem. Just like when they sign a player, they may pay him more, but that is because the expect more. Or they can get a not as good player cheaper. It is called “business”, and there is nothing illegal about it.

      That being said, I’d bet my salary this year that 95% of the union had no idea this was going on. Personally, if I was a member of the union, I would want Hunter’s job, and the cancellation of any work still covered under any agreement with members of his family,or their companies/firm. It is definite nepotism (If I was a member, I would also want to know why the switched from the firm his daughter worked at, to her new firm. That, specifically, I would want something to prove that they are doing something the previous firm wasn’t doing. There would have to be a reason besides “they hired my daughter”), but not illegal.

      Should he be charged? No, not even close. Should he be fired for it? Yes, and if he isn’, I’d have a look at the “executive committee” members accounts too (which is something union member can demand)

      • thraiderskin - Apr 25, 2012 at 12:57 AM

        I was actually thinking along the lines of fraud and theft. To what extent was it known that Hunter had personal connections to all firms servicing the players. I mean, if you paid out lots of cash per year to an organization who was supposed to protect your best interests, only to find out it was corrupted by nepotism, wouldn’t you feel robbed? Also, as a union, aren’t they governed by the same Anti-trust laws as corporations? Since Hunter is only willing to deal with personal relations, isn’t he stacking the deck much like what microsoft once attempted within the tech world?

      • somekat - Apr 25, 2012 at 2:16 AM

        No, you are talking about a public corporation. A private corporatio (like the NBPA) can spend it’s money wherever it wants. Use facebook as an example. 2 Years ago, if that Zuckenberg (or whatever his name is) kid wanted to make a deal, he just did it. Now, he has to go to a board for permission and go through more scrutiny because it is publicly traded.

        It’s not different than if you and I opened a store selling contruction supplies. You know a guy who always delivers on time, always has good product, and is willing to do extra if need be, and he charges $500. Some other vendor can get the same order filled for $450, but niether of us have dealt with them. There is no law that if we go with the guy you know, the vendor has been wronged.

        It is stupid to have family involved, IMO, you NEVER get the same service. They should have no ties with his family, and if they are there, they should of been loudly told about them. I’m willing to bet they didn’t.

        Again, shady? Yes, very. Illegal? No, not at all

      • skids003 - Apr 25, 2012 at 1:12 PM

        Why is this not illegal? One word. Union.

  3. allball23 - Apr 24, 2012 at 4:15 PM

    No wonder hunter wants fisher out. Fisher is trying to stop the money train from stopping at the Hunter household.

    • boilerup1869 - Apr 25, 2012 at 1:02 AM

      I wondered what was going on when this first came up. Fisher has always appeared to be well-liked and well-respected by his fellow players. It seemed totally unexpected – especially that public statement made by the Executive Committee stating that Fisher was not acting in the best interests of his players.

      Now we find out that Hunter was basically funneling money to his family? Nepotism AND cronyism. Sickening!

      Bottom line: Keep Fish, fire Hunter.

  4. boilerup1869 - Apr 24, 2012 at 4:49 PM

    Hunter is scum.

    • somekat - Apr 25, 2012 at 2:18 AM

      that is an insult to scum everywhere

      • boilerup1869 - Apr 25, 2012 at 9:37 AM

        Fair point!

  5. nokoolaidcowboy - Apr 24, 2012 at 5:14 PM

    So I guess the owners aren’t the ONLY bad guys out there.

  6. ncarolinarn7 - Apr 24, 2012 at 5:27 PM

    Let freedom ring. FISH for PreZ!

  7. chiadam - Apr 24, 2012 at 6:02 PM

    It was easier than I thought it would be for Hunter to pull his Jedi mind trick on the bumbling executive committee. Good for him.
    Evans: Billy, we’re supposed to talk to you about nepotism.
    Hunter: You don’t even know what that means. And I didn’t do it.
    Evans: Good enough for me! Let’s get Fisher!

  8. thebigkahuna23 - Apr 24, 2012 at 6:53 PM

    Why is anybody surprised at this? Chris Rock once said a man is only as faithful as his options. Obviously Billy fancied embezzling money and hey, nobody caught him until now. Regardless it’s fairly obvious that Hunter should be gone yesterday. Get him outa here.

  9. mogogo1 - Apr 24, 2012 at 10:12 PM

    Wow, talk about completely losing touch… Hunter gets caught with his whole family on the payroll and the executive committee votes 8-0 for FISHER to resign? Hunter and the executive committee work for Fisher and the other players, not the other way around. The gigs up, Billy. You and your executive committee buddies will soon be unemployed.

  10. 24thesho - Apr 25, 2012 at 7:20 AM

    Hunter does have a kind of “shifty” look to him.

  11. iowahbr - Apr 26, 2012 at 3:16 PM

    This whole story just shows, by inference, how much NBA players are paid and how in touch thye are wiht union issues. To not be outraged by Hunter’s actions and then to get the whole exc. committee to ask for Fisher’s resignation over a business practices audit shows how out of touch the union is with its members. If the players don’t like the settlement they made to end the walk-out they should begin to realize that it looks like the union is being run for the benefit of the Hunter family, none of whom to my knowledge ever played in the NBA, and not for the benefit of its members.

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