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NBA’s Best Players ‘Irresponsibly Apathetic’ to Union, Falk Says

Jan. 23 (Bloomberg) -- David Falk, one of the most powerful men in basketball as Michael Jordan’s agent, said superstar players and their representatives have been “irresponsibly apathetic” and deserve blame for their union’s current troubles.

“The players have allowed this situation to occur,” said Falk, whose clients include Basketball Hall of Fame members Jordan and former National Basketball Players Association President Patrick Ewing. “That apathy has allowed whatever inappropriate behavior that occurred to happen.”

An independent review of players’ association business practices found that Executive Director Billy Hunter put his personal interests ahead of the organization, failed to manage conflicts of interest and hid the fact that his contract wasn’t properly approved.

Hunter, 70, didn’t do anything illegal, according to the nine-month investigation conducted by the New York law firm Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison.

“I never expected they’d find a smoking gun,” said Falk, who clashed with Hunter over strategy and agent input during work stoppages. “Billy is too smart for that. He has totally exploited the players’ lack of involvement.”

The players should consider replacing Hunter, a former U.S. attorney, as their union boss, according to the law firm’s 229-page report released on Jan. 18.

Falk declined to say whether Hunter should be ousted. Brooklyn Nets point guard Deron Williams told CBSSports.com that change is needed at the top of the union.

Star Participation

More important than who is leading the union, Falk said, is engagement and participation from the players, especially stars like reigning Most Valuable Player LeBron James.

Falk said he encouraged his clients to take an active role in the association and wonders why so many of today’s agents haven’t done the same.

Falk, who still represents players, criticized some of the more powerful agents for not getting their clients involved, particularly at the executive committee level. He mentioned Bill Duffy, whose clients include Boston’s Rajon Rondo and the Los Angeles Lakers’ Steve Nash; Jeff Schwartz, who represents Williams and Boston’s Paul Pierce; Leon Rose, whose clients include New York’s Carmelo Anthony and the Los Angeles Clippers’ Chris Paul; and Rob Pelinka, who represents the Lakers’ Kobe Bryant and Oklahoma City’s Kevin Durant.

“Those guys need to get off their asses and get their players involved,” Falk said. “Where are the stars? Where are the leaders? Where are the people managing them? If you’re LeBron, if you’re Kobe, look at your agents and say, ‘How did you let this happen?’”

Falk’s Clients

None of the agents returned telephone messages seeking comment on the players association or Falk’s remarks. None of Falk’s current clients hold board-level positions in the union, while two serve as team player representatives -- Toney Douglas of the Houston Rockets and Evan Turner of the Philadelphia 76ers.

The players must ask themselves what they need from their union, which has taken an adversarial role with the league for far too long,’’ according to Falk.

“The time for fighting is over,” he said. Players should consider what DeMaurice Smith has done as head of the National Football League Players Association. Both leagues locked out players in 2011. The NFL reached a contract deal without losing any regular-season games, while the NBA played a season shortened by about 25 percent after a settlement.

“So how do the players help the NBA get from $5 billion in revenue to $10 billion?” Falk asked. “It should be a tight community between agents, players and the union.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Scott Soshnick in New York at ssoshnick@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Michael Sillup at msillup@bloomberg.net

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