NBPA Drama: Fisher, Hunter Point Fingers
The NBA lockout is a distant memory, but the National Basketball Players Association continues to make headlines due to internal drama that came to a head this week. Tensions between the NBPA president Derek Fisher and executive director Billy Hunter have reached a boiling point, with Fisher asking for an independent review of the NBPA’s business and financial practices while Hunter and the eight-player executive committee are calling for Fisher’s resignation.
The executive committee includes Maurice Evans, Chris Paul, Keyon Dooling, James Jones, Matt Bonner, Roger Mason, Theo Ratliff and Etan Thomas. After a unanimous vote, the group suggested that Fisher resign. The committee scheduled a conference call with Hunter and discussed some of the concerns that Fisher has brought up relating to the union’s leadership and practices. Hunter provided in-depth answers and erased the group’s concerns. The board scheduled a similar phone call with Fisher to discuss his allegations, but Fisher failed to call in.
“Derek has the right to handle this as he sees fit,” Evans said. “We have already expressed what our desires are as a board. We didn’t expect this from Derek, with the leadership he has displayed in the past, and it was becoming a huge distraction from the great season that the NBA is having right now. The executive committee understands that we don’t make decisions as individuals. We make decisions as a whole. This is not about Mo Evans, Billy Hunter or Derek Fisher. This is about us making decisions collectively and when we don’t demonstrate that desire to make decisions as a group, we think it’s in the best interest to part ways.”
Fisher released a statement on Friday morning, vowing to push for transparency and progress.
“The quickest, most efficient way to say it is to say that I do and I’ve always taken my job as president of the players association very, very seriously,” Fisher told a group of reporters. “And anyone or any group that questions my intentions or any decisions I’ve ever made that I’ve felt were best for our players, I think need to step back for a moment and ask themselves this: why would I try and ask certain questions and call into review the association that I’m the president of unless I thought that there were some serious questions that needed to be answered? Things that I, as president, aren’t satisfied with. It calls my leadership into question in certain ways in terms of not being able to put certain controls in place. I’ll take the hits and the negative comments that may come or whatever may happen, but it won’t take me away or distract me from doing what I feel is best for all of our players. This is in no way about me. It’s about our membership. And so I won’t lose focus on that idea. I’m going to continue to push for what is right for our players.”
The NBPA just did a financial audit in February and didn’t find any issues, according to sources close to the situation. Fisher is calling for transparency, but other members of the executive committee don’t believe there are any problems with the union’s business or financial practices.
“I can’t speak on Derek’s behalf, I can only speak on behalf of the group, but we believe in transparency and believe in being forthright,” Evans said. “We want nothing more than to be transparent with the entire general body as we represent them. This isn’t about our individual desires. We just want to move forward and help the union to function better. We don’t want to be a distraction to our players. We want to shift the focus away from Derek, Billy and the executive committee and back onto the great season that we’re having.”
Fisher insists that he’s not going to resign, but he may reconsider if the league’s player representatives call for his ouster. If he resigns, the NBPA will have a vote to determine who will be the next president. At the moment, it seems that Chris Paul is the most likely candidate to take Fisher’s place.
“We believe that Chris Paul will be the next president,” Evans said. “He played an intricate role during the lockout and throughout the negotiations. He has the confidence of a lot of guys on the board and around the NBA. Going forward, we believe that he would do a great job. That has yet to be determined or voted on and we’ll address those matters down the road. For now, we’ll continue to support every member of the executive committee and value every member’s opinions.”
During the lockout, there were some allegations that Fisher was looking out for himself rather than negotiating with the players’ best interests in mind. He was compared to former NBPA president Michael Curry, who allegedly helped NBA commissioner David Stern broker a labor deal in 2005 in exchange for a job once his playing career came to an end. Fisher emphatically denied the allegations, but the recent drama between he and Hunter confirms that the two men haven’t been on the same page for quite some time. Evans wouldn’t specifically confirm that Fisher attempted to orchestrate a side deal with the NBA owners, but he did acknowledge that some of Fisher’s actions have been questionable.
“Billy, Derek and myself were the parties involved in that specific matter, and we’ll continue to show Derek respect and handle that matter internally,” Evans said. “We have never disclosed what actually took place and what evidence we had concerning that matter. I’ll continue to be professional. I won’t engage in specifically pointing out each questionable action that Derek has engaged in. I will just continue to shift the focus away from pointing fingers. That’s what has allowed this process to get extremely messy. I sent out a message to the board saying that this is becoming petty and messy, which is how you lose credibility and respect. We’re losing focus.”
“This isn’t about any of us individually,” Evans continued. “Everyone on the executive committee played a huge role in achieving a new collective bargaining agreement. I’m not going to allow these distractions, these allegations or concerns that Derek may have, to outshine what we all collectively accomplished this summer. We made a decision as a committee that going forward, we’re going to work together make decisions as a group. That’s one of our problems as players. A lot of times, we want to function as individuals instead of working together for the better good of the group. We’re all in a powerful position. We’re all NBA players, one of 450 who have come from individual obstacles to get here. Now, it’s time that we put all of our individual desires aside and work together to make decisions as a group.”
The NBPA will try to resolve this drama in the coming weeks and then use this experience to better the union this offseason.
“There’s nothing for us to accomplish right now as a committee. We’re focused on being basketball players right now. This summer, we can focus on improving the programs and improving how the union functions. We want this to be the best union in sports so that we can represent our players’ best interests. We have a lot to learn from baseball, football and different sports. We’re trying to improve the union as a whole. That’s what this is about.”