NBA Union Must Focus on Goals for Hunter Successor, Tellem Says

National Basketball Association players, who three days ago fired the leader of their union, need to pinpoint what they want from the next executive director before selecting that person, agent Arn Tellem said.

Tellem was the first player representative to call for the dismissal of Billy Hunter, who had held the job since 1996, in the wake of a union-commissioned report that concluded the former federal prosecutor placed the interests of himself and his family ahead of the association.

“Patience is required,” said Tellem, who in a Jan. 28 letter to clients, including former Most Valuable Player Derrick Rose of the Chicago Bulls, accused Hunter of “treachery” during a “reign of error” as head of an association with about $185 million in assets. “They need to seek out advice, to determine exactly what the job entails.”

Tellem also said the players should retain a law firm without ties to Hunter or union President Derek Fisher, who last year called for an investigation of union business and hiring practices.

“The executive director lives in a fishbowl,” Tellem said. “He needs to be a master of internal policies. He has to educate, unify and motivate.”

Fisher said player union representatives to the association unanimously voted to fire Hunter, who wasn’t permitted to address the membership during its Feb. 16 meeting at All-Star weekend in Houston. The vote was 24-0. Six teams weren’t represented when the vote was taken.

“This is our union and we have taken it back,” Fisher said, declining to take questions because the 70-year-old Hunter is the target of investigations by the U.S. Attorney in Manhattan, the U.S. Department of Labor and the New York Attorney General’s office.

Nine-Month Probe

The review of union business practices was conducted by the New York law firm Paul Weiss Rifkind Wharton & Garrison, which issued its findings after a nine-month investigation.

Tellem said in a telephone interview that the basketball players would be wise to consult with their Major League Baseball counterparts, who under executive directors Marvin Miller, Don Fehr and Michael Weiner have what many say is the most powerful union in major U.S. team sports.

“The only union in sports worth emulating is Major League Baseball,” said Tellem, whose baseball clients include pitcher Barry Zito of the San Francisco Giants. “No leaders can offer better counsel. They know better than anyone what the players should be looking for.”

Weiner didn’t respond to a request, made to baseball union spokesman Greg Bouris, for comment on what advice he would offer the NBA players.

Possible Replacements

Tellem wouldn’t speculate on candidates to fill the position that paid Hunter $3 million a year.

“The position has no real parallels out there,” he said.

Among those mentioned as possible replacements for Hunter are Fehr, former Madison Square Garden Sports President Steve Mills and B. Todd Jones, acting director of the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms. The Toronto Star, citing a person it didn’t identify, said Fehr -- currently executive director of the National Hockey League Players’ Association -- isn’t interested in the job.

NBA union attorney Ron Klempner will run the association until an executive director is chosen.

NBA Commissioner David Stern during his annual state-of-the-league address during All-Star weekend said league officials are awaiting word from the players on whom they should be dealing with.

Joe Bailey, managing director at RSR Partners, an executive search firm based in Greenwich, Connecticut, said the position’s high visibility means there won’t be any shortage of candidates seeking to succeed Hunter.

Search Committee

“You will have a lot of very interesting candidates -- and also highly motivated ones,” said Bailey, the former interim commissioner of the Big East conference. “If you judge the search by the content of the work, it’s interesting. I’m sure the compensation will be relatively attractive. It’ll be a very coveted position.”

The first order of business for the union, Bailey said, is to determine who will serve on the search committee.

For now, the union’s more immediate concern might be a legal fight with Hunter, who says the players owe him the remaining $10 million left on his contract. The Paul Weiss report concluded that Hunter hid the fact his contract wasn’t properly ratified, rendering it invalid.

“We do not doubt that this process will possibly continue in an ugly way,” Fisher said.

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