NEW YORK (AP) - NBA players put union chief Billy Hunter on an indefinite leave Friday, two weeks after a report they commissioned questioned Hunter’s leadership and criticized him for bad decisions and questionable business practices.
The union is forming an interim executive committee and an advisory committee, the group’s president, Derek Fisher, said in a statement released Friday. An outside attorney is also being hired as players begin moving forward, likely without the man who has guided them since 1996.
Fisher pushed for the outside review of Hunter and the union. That examination by a New York law firm found no illegal use of funds but cited Hunter for a number of poor choices and recommended players discuss whether he should remain in charge during their All-Star weekend meetings.
“Because of the unusual circumstances at the union, a result of mismanagement extensively documented by the Paul, Weiss report, the committees have decided to take immediate actions that allow them to assess the situation fully and build a stronger, more effective organization that better represents their membership,” the statement released through Fisher’s publicist said.
Released Jan. 17 after an eight-month review, the report found that Hunter was aware his $3 million per year contract was never properly approved. It also criticized his hiring of family members and friends, and said there were other conflicts of interests he should have avoided.
Fisher’s statement said that because of the ongoing investigations being conducted by the U.S. Department of Labor and U.S. attorney’s office, the players wanted the executive committee to take steps to protect them.
“Unfortunately, it appears that union management has lost sight of the NBPA’s only task, to serve the best interests of their membership. This is the reason I called for a review almost a year ago,” Fisher said. “The findings of that review confirm this unfortunate truth and we must now move forward as players. Immediate change is necessary and I, along with the committee members, are committed to driving the process as difficult as it may be.”
Union attorney Ron Klempner will be the acting executive director “until further decisions can be made.”
The union also said its All-Star weekend meetings in Houston may be revised so all players can attend without conflict.
Hunter’s attorney, Thomas Ashley, said his client had been treated unfairly and had already taken steps to improve the union.
“I am deeply troubled by the lack of fundamental fairness shown my client by a group whose authority to take such action is highly questionable. The act of placing my client on administrative leave is not supported in either the constitution or bylaws of the NBPA,” Ashley said. “Furthermore, Mr. Hunter was not given any opportunity to respond to the Paul, Weiss report prior to the time that a decision was made to place him on administrative leave.”
Hunter and Fisher clashed during the lockout that lasted from July-December 2011. Agents were angry with Hunter’s strategies during this one and the 1998 work stoppage, though he has remained popular and respected by many players.
The review gave them reason to consider his future. It accuses Hunter of spending improperly on travel and gifts, questions his expense reports and unused vacation time pay, saying he “paid little attention to the appearance of impropriety.”
Miami Heat forward Shane Battier said Wednesday the report was “all alarming,” but added that it was already common knowledge to many players.