NBA Players Association executive director Billy Hunter has been placed on a leave of absence. / Seth Wenig AP
Billy Hunter, executive director of the National Basketball Players Association since 1996, has been placed on indefinite leave by the union's executive committee and appears to be on his way out permanently.
The decision, announced by NBPA president Derek Fisher in a statement Friday morning, comes in the wake of an internal investigation by the law firm, Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison, that called Hunter's business practices into question following the NBA lockout in 2012. NBPA attorney Ron Klempner has been placed in Hunter's position on an interim basis "until further decisions can be made," according to the statement.
Hunter's current contract - which the investigation indicated was not ratified in accordance with the bylaws of the union and is thus not valid - runs through 2015 with an option for Hunter to extend through 2016 and an executive committee option to extend through 2017. He currently earns $3 million annually.
"Unfortunately, it appears that Union management has lost sight of the NBPA's only task, to serve the best interests of their membership," Fisher, who currently does not play for an NBA team, said in the statement. "This is the reason I called for a review almost a year ago. 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. We ask for the cooperation, trust and patience of the players, their representatives and some of our hard working NBPA staff as we navigate through this situation. But rest assured that our goal is to do what is right for the players and we will emerge stronger than before."
Despite vacancies in seven of the nine spots on the executive committee, voting on the positions was expected to take place at All-Star weekend in Houston later this month, Fisher said an interim executive committee was formed in accordance with the NBPA's bylaws that includes all five active members from the previous committee. In addition to Fisher and San Antonio's Matt Bonner, then, the committee is believed to include the Clippers' Chris Paul, the Miami Heat's James Jones and the New Orleans Hornets' Roger Mason.
But Hunter indicated in a statement from his lawyer that he doesn't agree with the decision and will be fighting it.
"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," his attorney, Thomas Ashley, wrote. "The act of placing my client on administrative leave is not supported in either the Constitution or Bylaws of the NBPA. 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.
"Simply said, he was never given an opportunity to defend himself or refute the allegations made in the report. In addition to making governance reforms consistent with the report, Mr. Hunter has spoken to various teams and Player Representatives thus refuting the ridiculous suggestion that he was unresponsive to his membership. We believe his contract is valid and we will soon offer a comprehensive rebuttal and explanation with respect to the allegations mentioned in the letter and report."
Hunter, still the focus of ongoing criminal and civil investigations by the U.S. Department of Labor and U.S. Attorney's Office for the Southern District of New York, made last-ditch attempts to fix his situation recently. He announced on Wednesday that reforms would be made to address the many accusations he faced, among them that he was guilty of nepotism.
He fired his daughter, Robyn Hunter, and daughter-in-law, Megan Inaba, from their positions within the NBPA, and cut ties with the financial firm, Prim Capital, that had done extensive business with the union and employs his son, Todd.
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