NBA Union Chief Got 25% Raise While Players Missed Pay
Billy Hunter made $3 million in salary this past year as executive director of the National Basketball Players Association, a 25 percent increase over what he earned while leading the union through a season-shortening lockout that resulted in missed paychecks for the organization’s members.
Hunter’s salary was disclosed in the association’s annual filing with the U.S. Labor Department, which was made available on Sept. 29.
National Football League Players Association Executive Director DeMaurice Smith was paid $1.38 million this past season, though players also awarded him a $1 million bonus after he negotiated a new 10-year labor contract that ended a lockout before games were missed. Michael Weiner, the leader of the Major League Baseball Players’ Association, made $1 million.
“If I’m a rank and file member of this union I’ve got to ask myself -- Is Billy really worth three times the guy at MLBPA?” Paul Swangard, managing director of the Warsaw Sports Marketing Center at the University of Oregon, said in an e-mail. “With legitimate questions swirling about whether the NBPA has become Hunter Family Inc., Billy should be focused on clearing his name, not padding his paycheck.”
The salary disclosure comes as the union is being investigated by the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Manhattan. Authorities began the probe in April after union President Derek Fisher asked for independent reviews of the association’s finances and business practices.
The raise might erode some player support for Hunter who, unlike his football and hockey counterparts, drew a salary during the work stoppage. The regular season was cut to 66 games from the usual 82.
Hunter’s decision to be paid during the lockout surprised Miami Heat forward Shane Battier, who had asked the union leader during one player meeting if he would forgo paychecks during the work stoppage.
“I thought it was a great opportunity to unite and inspire the union,” Battier said during an interview in May. “It was a golden opportunity to unite the group, to prove that we were all in this together. Unfortunately, he didn’t share those views.”
Don Fehr, head of the National Hockey League Players Association, whose members are currently being locked out, told the Canadian Press this month that he wouldn’t draw a salary during the labor standoff.
“It’s both a measure of solidarity and uniformity of interest,” Fehr was quoted as saying. “You want the players to understand you’re in the same boat they are. You don’t have interests different than they do. We think it’s important.”
The hockey union is based in Toronto and doesn’t have to file disclosures with the U.S. government. Smith, of the football union, also took no salary during the NFL lockout, which was settled before paychecks or games were missed.
The NBA union appointed a six-member special committee that consists of player representatives and executive committee members to oversee an internal inquiry that will include a financial audit.
The special committee retained Theodore V. Wells, Jr. and the New York law firm of Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison to conduct the inquiry. Lisa Green, a spokeswoman for the firm, declined to comment when asked for a completion date for the probe.
Hunter, 69, said in a text message that he wouldn’t comment until the inquiry was finished.
Fisher had complained to executive committee members about nepotism at the union, which represents about 450 players. Fisher didn’t sign the LM-2, as the annual filing is known. It was signed by Hunter and union treasurer James Jones of the Miami Heat.
Jamie Wior, a spokeswoman for Fisher, didn’t respond to an e-mail seeking comment on Hunter’s salary. Jones didn’t respond to an e-mail or message left on his mobile phone.
Hunter has a daughter and daughter-in-law on staff at the New York-based association. Another daughter is special counsel at a law firm used by the union, and Hunter’s son is a principal at a financial planning and investment firm that advises the organization on investments and runs its financial awareness program for players.
Hunter has said his family members are qualified and, in most cases, underpaid by market standards.
Hunter’s daughter, Robyn, the union’s director of player benefits, was paid $89,695, the filing shows, about $7,000 more than last year. Megan Inaba, Hunter’s daughter-in-law and the director of special events, received $167,100, about $6,000 less.
The law firm Steptoe & Johnson, which employs Hunter’s daughter Alexis and which assisted during labor talks, was paid about $1.37 million, according to the filing. Dewey & Leboeuf, the former firm of outside counsel Jeff Kessler, was paid about $1.3 million.
Hunter’s son, Todd, is a partner at Prim Capital Corp., a Cleveland-based firm that was paid $595,000, about $18,000 more than last year.
Hunter took over as executive director in 1996. A former National Football League player, he was the U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of California from 1977-84.
Retired player Jerome Williams, a former member of the union’s executive committee, in a telephone interview said any player surprised by Hunter’s salary or raise needs to be more involved in the process.
“You have to educate yourself, to be able to reference whether what he’s getting or what he’s doing is outside of the norm,” Williams said. “You have to say to yourself, ‘What are we doing that others aren’t?’ The players are the ones who vote. Point any fingers back at yourself.”
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