Chris Paul Aims for Stability After Election to Union Presidency

Chris Paul said his priority as president of the National Basketball Players Association will be to guide the union through a period of flux that saw Billy Hunter fired as executive director.

“We want to make sure our house is in order,” Paul said on a conference call after his election last night. “The top priority is to continue to get as much involvement as possible from the players. That’s what it’s supposed to be about.”

Los Angeles Clippers point guard Paul, 28, a six-time All-Star, succeeds Derek Fisher, whose term is expiring. Paul, a vice president on the union’s executive committee for four years, is the first marquee player to hold the presidency since Patrick Ewing’s term ended in 2001.

Paul said there is “no rush” to replace Hunter, who was ousted amid charges of nepotism and abuse of union resources. Player representatives from 24 of the 30 NBA teams voted unanimously in February to fire Hunter, ending the former federal prosecutor’s 16-year tenure.

“Right now it’s a big time for players and the union,” Paul said. “Moving forward is not about me but about players as a whole -- moving forward to grow the game and build the game.”

Nine-year NBA veteran Roger Mason Jr., 32, who had been considered the front-runner to become president, was elected first vice president in yesterday’s vote in Las Vegas.

Internal Audit

Hunter’s dismissal ended almost a year of speculation about his future with the association, punctuated by the results of an audit of the union conducted by New York-based law firm Paul Weiss Rifkind Wharton & Garrison. The review concluded that, while Hunter did nothing illegal, he failed to manage conflicts of interest, lacked proper corporate governance and didn’t disclose that his $3 million-a-year contract wasn’t properly ratified.

In his rebuttal, Hunter said his contract was valid and that he has always put players first. Hunter sued the union, Fisher and his publicist, Jamie Wior, in May, alleging they engaged in secret negotiations with team owners to end the 2011 NBA lockout.

Hunter helped negotiate collective bargaining agreements that pushed the average NBA player’s salary to more than $5 million, the highest in U.S. team sports. The union, in debt when Hunter took over, now has $80 million in net assets, according to his rebuttal.

$10 Million Claim

Hunter also said that his contract is valid and he is owed more than $10 million if terminated. The audit report said the union had “no obligation” to accept the document as enforceable.

Player representatives never voted to ratify Hunter’s contract, a necessary step under union bylaws, the audit said. Hunter responded that such a vote is necessary for new contracts, not extensions.

James Jones of the Miami Heat and Jerry Stackhouse of the Brooklyn Nets have emerged as key voices for the union during the six-month transition period since Fisher led the drive to oust Hunter. Staff attorney Ron Klempner was named interim executive director on Feb. 1.

Hall of Fame center Ewing left the union presidency after overseeing a lockout in 1998-99 that canceled regular-season games for the first time.

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