The labor battle between the NBA and the National Basketball Players Association was an ugly, protracted affair that nearly led to the season's cancellation. But that was an appetizer compared to the entree that's starting to boil over: a spat between Billy Hunter and Derek Fisher, the union's executive director and president, respectively.
Fisher, who spent most of his career with the Los Angeles Lakers before joining the Oklahoma City Thunder last month, recently sought an independent review of the union's business practices, intimating that something is amiss. The union's eight-player executive committee responded with a unanimous vote of no confidence and asked him to resign. He has refused.
"I along with many others are extremely disappointed with the executive committee," Fisher wrote in an email distributed by his publicist last week. "Their demand for my resignation and their need to protect the NBPA management and their own best interests instead of protecting the players we were elected to serve is unfortunate.
"I have tried to convey the legal and moral obligations we have as union officers. Sadly, the executive committee has now waged a personal character attack on me to divert attention from the real issue. The truth."
The executive committee responded with a memo, acquired by ESPN.com, outlining its grievances with Fisher. He's accused of being delinquent in his duties since the lockout ended and failing to operate within the NBPA's constitution. The memo states that Fisher "acted without the Executive Committee's express approval and unilaterally committed significant union funds to retain a law firm to perform a financial audit and business review of the NBPA.
"When the Executive Committee requested that Fisher identify specific reasons for retaining the law firm and acting without the Executive Committee's consent, Fisher declined to provide the Executive Committee with an explanation."
Since news of the dispute went public, Hunter's leadership and hiring practices have come under scrutiny. While he hasn't been accused of unlawful behavior, Hunter has been questioned in several publications for hiring family members and doing business with firms that employ family members. Citing public records, Bloomberg reports that the union has paid Hunter's relatives and their businesses $4.8 million since 2001.
Hunter dismisses charges of nepotism. "Let me say this to you: My children are highly credentialed," he told the New York Times. "In many instances they're being paid at or below the market … There's nothing illegal, and you're not going to find anything illegal, you or anybody else, if that's what you're looking for. I'm not afraid of that."
Better that this fight within the union has come out now rather than during labor negotiations that could have been derailed by infighting. But it would be even better if the union kept these matters in-house and saved perceptible battles for disputes with the league and team owners.
In the end, players sit on the same side of the table. The only threat to their public unity should come from the opposite side, not from within.