The NBA players' union is expected to fire Billy Hunter on Saturday. But there's a lot of unnecessary subterfuge marring the process.
I understand the desire for tidy resolution, for quick strikes and clean wounds. Derek Fisher, the agents on his side and the bulk of the NBA players' union would like to excise longtime executive director Billy Hunter in the wake of a report charging him with something more gross than simple nepotism. An investigation has found that Hunter has used player dues to prop up a failing bank connected to his son, that he did not hold a proper vetting for the extension of his own massive contract and that nepotism plays a role in union hiring and contracting practices. The union also knows that he's a persuasive man who doesn't like to lose. I understand the desire to do this as quickly and quietly as possible. I liken it to Downton Abbey: there's nothing less desirable than to bring further scandal on the house. Allowing Hunter to fight these charges and argue for his job would potentially bring more scandal to the union, especially at the very high-profile All-Star Weekend.
But this is simply not fair. Due process matters.
In recent days, reports have suggested that Hunter has been barred from attending the union's meeting on Saturday. He's still the executive director, though. One of the blows against him is that the investigators found that he didn't receive proper union approval for his most recent contract. But he did receive some approval -- a few of the player reps were on hand to nod it through. And he's been acting as the union's head from that approval (however it may have happened) until his suspension last month. He did help end the lockout before even half a season was lost, and frankly did well by the union in the end. He has been doing the job, so contract or not, he should be able to attend this meeting until players vote to remove him.
The reasons that he's been barring, according to recent reports? Fisher and the agents are worried his force of personality will change some player reps' minds. To which I reply: you've got to be kidding me. Union politics are politics, only (in my experience) more insular and shadowy. Force of personality is not a threatening trait. Without force of personality, Hunter wouldn't have been able to fight David Stern on a hard cap, on unguaranteed contracts, on a worse revenue split. And now that force of personality forces Hunter away? Give me a break. Like Fisher doesn't have force of personality. Like Arn Tellem doesn't have force of personality. Maybe everyone should just take a few Ambien before the meeting so no one is unduly impressive in their pleading.
The reason Hunter is barred might be because of what happened the last time Hunter had an audience with the top player reps: he convinced them to vote to ask for Fisher's resignation as president of the union. The executive committee voted 8-0 to ask for that resignation. Fisher refused, he pressed on with his investigation and now we're here, ready for a unanimous vote to oust Fisher's adversary. No wonder Fisher wouldn't want Hunter here: he's been beaten -- in a battle, not the war -- by Hunter before.
Nearly as gross as how Hunter is being barred from his own prosecution is the way Maurice Evans, the players' No. 2 rep prior to this season, has been treated. Evans did not sign with a team this year, and so the union booted him from his executive vice president spot. He also happens to be perhaps the only Hunter advocate left. Jason Whitlock of FOXSports.com talked to him.
"Without a doubt, I know me not being in the league has something to do with my support of Billy Hunter," Evans said. "I'm fully comfortable not playing in the NBA ever again."
Evans lives in Houston. [...] Evans said he received a letter from the union on Wednesday warning him that he is not allowed to attend Saturday's union meeting because he's no longer in the league.
"They excommunicated your boy," Evans said. "They took my tickets, took my little status as executive vice president."
Fisher played a few games for the Mavericks, thus allowing him to retain his leadership spot in the union. Evans claims the short, no-risk contract with Dallas was signed for a reason. I think that's a bad conspiracy theory: the Mavericks have signed a number of hilarious veterans for a few minutes at a time this season (Fisher, Troy Murphy, Mike James). There was no conspiracy to keep Fisher in the league and thus the union, no matter how much owners dislike Hunter. Surely Fisher knew he needed to sign a contract for a short period to retain union power, but the Mavericks signed him in a desperate attempt to stay afloat, not to help Fisher's cause.
And frankly, I'm not convinced Evans has been blacklisted from the NBA. If he could help a team, a team would sign him. GMs and owners are not disciplined enough to blacklist players who are experienced, who are nice guys, who are good teammates and leaders. If someone wanted him and he wanted to play, he'd be in the league.
But there's really no reason other than immense insecurity to bar Evans. If there's a solid case to remove Hunter -- which there appears to be -- having a dissenting voice is not going to matter. Fisher means to squelch the opportunity for debate; a unanimous decision to boot Hunter would make the union looks strong for a change. Yet getting to that point at the cost of open hostility and exclusion of those in dissent makes Fisher and his supporters look weak.
There's nothing that looks more weak in a political setting than insecurity. That's all I see in these exclusionary decisions by Fisher. The post-Hunter era, if that is in fact what we're settling into, does not look to be off to a great start.