Billy Hunter has been placed on indefinite leave by the executive committee of the National Basketball Players Association in what might be the first step in removing him as executive director, according to a statement from the organization’s executive committee.
Staff attorney Ron Klempner will serve as interim executive director, according to the statement released yesterday.
“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,” Hunter’s attorney, Thomas Ashley, said in an e-mailed statement. “We believe his contract is valid and we will soon offer a comprehensive rebuttal.”
Hunter, 70, has been criticized after an independent report found that he put personal interests ahead of the association, failed to manage conflicts of interest and didn’t disclose that his $3 million-a-year contract wasn’t properly ratified.
The report was issued about two weeks ago by the New York law firm Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison, which conducted a nine-month investigation into union practices.
“Immediate change is necessary and I, along with the committee members, are committed to driving the process as difficult as it may be,” union President Derek Fisher said in the statement.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office in Manhattan is conducting an investigation begun after Fisher called for a review of union business practices.
Being put on leave possibly denies Hunter the opportunity to lobby for support during the Feb. 15-17 All-Star break in Houston, where the players are scheduled to convene to decide the union’s future.
“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,” Ashley said yesterday. “He was never given an opportunity to defend himself or refute the allegations made in the report.”
The union said in the statement that it had formed an interim executive committee as well as an advisory committee to move the organization forward. The interim executive committee will be comprised of all five active members of the most recent executive panel.
In addition, the union said, the players would retain outside counsel to help the committees and players in their next moves.
The New York-based union paid almost $4.8 million to Hunter’s family members and their professional firms since 2001, according to public records as reported by Bloomberg News in April. Hunter, who makes $3 million a year, announced the terminations of family members this week and said he would implement an antinepotism policy.
Robyn Hunter, the director’s daughter, ceased working at the National Basketball Players Association on Jan. 25. Megan Inaba, his daughter-in-law and director of special events and sponsorships, will leave on Feb. 17.
Hunter also secured a letter of resignation from Prim Capital, which employs his son, Todd.
Arn Tellem, one of the most influential agents in basketball, sent a letter this week to his clients saying Hunter should be fired.
Tellem, in a telephone interview, called yesterday’s action by the players “a necessary first step.”
“The players need a leader of integrity and strong moral character who will put the needs of the membership first and champion their cause,” he said.
Hunter responded to Tellem’s letter to clients in a statement, saying he has always looked after the players’ interests, even if their agents didn’t. He also said the agents have never been satisfied that they couldn’t control the union for their own agendas.