HOUSTON — In an expected and, in what many players felt was a necessary move, the NBA players union voted to oust executive director Billy Hunter on Saturday afternoon, president Derek Fisher making the announcement in a brief news conference at a downtown hotel.
Fisher, who isn’t currently on an NBA roster, said he will remain president of the NBPA, with Spurs forward Matt Bonner as vice president.
The removal of Hunter is yet another chapter in what has become a melodrama in a union plagued by infighting.
In April 2012, the executive committee voted, 8-0, to ask Fisher for his resignation, the first major sign there was dissension between Fisher and Hunter. Fisher refused to resign and instead called for an investigation into Hunter’s tactics as executive director.
In January, an independent law firm released a scathing review of Hunter’s conduct as executive director. Although no criminal actions were discovered, the report called for several major changes, as well as accused Hunter of nepotism, ratifying his lucrative contract extension without full union approval, taking excessive vacation time, investing union money in his son’s fledging bank, and using union funds to purchase gifts for union members.
Hunter quickly fired his family members, reduced the power of his post, and adjusted other union regulations, but many players felt the moves were desperate and too late. Paul Pierce, the Celtics’ union representative, told the Globe last month he wanted Hunter removed.
The consensus among many player representatives was that Hunter’s dealings as executive director should result in his removal.
Flanked by Denver’s Andre Iguodala, New Orleans’s Roger Mason, Miami’s James Jones, and New Jersey’s Jerry Stackhouse, Fisher spoke briefly with the media and said the NBPA fully expects legal action from Hunter.
“Today for the National Basketball Players Association was a day of change,” Fisher said. “We held a meeting of the board of player representatives, with many different groups of players represented.
“We want to make it clear that we are here to serve only the best interests of the player. No threats. No lies. No distractions will stop us from serving our membership.
“We do not doubt that this process will possibly continue in an ugly way but we want to remind everyone that there are three ongoing government investigations pending and so we’d like to continue to respect that process and continue to handle ourselves accordingly in that regard.
“But going forward, we’ll no longer be divided, misled, misinformed. This is our union and we’re taking it back.”
Hunter, 70, is a former NFL wide receiver who has been executive director since 1996 and has presided over three major labor negotiations, in 1998, 2005, and 2011, with two of those resulting in lockouts and shortened seasons. After the newest labor agreement was approved and the season resumed in December 2011, there was growing disenchantment with Hunter, and Pierce even called for a decertification of the union.
NBPA matters never improved, despite the new deal, and a wedge formed between Fisher and Hunter, who were once close colleagues.
Hunter responded to his removal and would not rule out legal action to retain his job.
“I have yet to receive any notification, other than published news reports, that the NBPA has terminated my employment,” he said. “If accurate, it is indicative of the extremely troubling process followed by the NBPA during the past few weeks.
“During the days and weeks ahead, my legal team and I will begin carefully reviewing the actions taken and statements made against me in the meeting room in my absence. I look forward to gathering the evidence showing how certain individuals made sure the outcome was preordained.”
Hunter claims he was not allowed to attend Saturday’s meeting and plead his case to remain executive director.
“After 17 years of representing NBA players during CBA negotiations and defending their rights in other proceedings, not once was there an occasion where one side was denied an opportunity to be heard,” he said. “The current interim regime in control of the NBPA has set a terrible precedent for the union. It violates every tenet of fairness upon which the union was founded . . .
“I do not consider today’s vote the end, only a different beginning. My legal representatives and I will resume communication with the NBPA to determine how to best move forward in the best interests of all parties.”
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In his state of the league address, commissioner David Stern offered no comment on the removal of Hunter, whom he had formed a friendship with over the past several years. He also added that the Board of Governors will decide the fate of the Sacramento Kings at its April 18 meeting. He also announced that Brooklyn or New York will be awarded the 2015 All-Star Game.Gary Washburn can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.