Ethics Damage NBA Union Credibility


Respected, veteran guard, Derek Fisher, was recently asked to resign as president of the NBA Players Association for showing the courage to speak against possible ethics concerns of union leadership.    As reported in this Bloomberg report, it appears that nepotism might have been practiced by NBA Players Association Executive Director Billy Hunter.

Specifically, questions arose due to the hiring of relatives that were paid lucrative salaries in performing vital functions for the union.  The four individuals involved are Hunter’s son, Todd,  his two daughters, Alexis and Robyn, and Todd’s wife, Megan Inaba.

Todd Hunter serves as one of three partners of Prim Capital, who were tasked with organizing a financial awareness campaign that helped NBA players survive a recent work stoppage through using better money management practices.  Through their efforts, Prim Capital earned up to $3 million in fees.

Then there’s Alexis and Robyn, who also had intimate dealings with the union.  Alexis worked with two law firms, Howrey LLP and Steptoe & Johnson LLP, who both benefited through dealings with the union.  Howrey LLP received $449,952 during her stint with the firm, while Steptoe & Johnson LLP earned an undisclosed amount for filing an unfair labor practice charge against the NBA with the National Labor Relations Board.  As for Robyn, she served as benefits director, which yielded a salary of $82,954 and has been paid $201,234 since joining the union in the beginning of 2009.

Lastly, there is Todd’s wife, Megan Inaba, who served as the union’s director of special events.  While she worked for the union before her marriage with Todd, it should be noted that she has earned close to $1.2 million over the last 11 years.

All of these matters concerned Derek Fisher, who was committed to learning more about the questionable management practices of Billy Hunter.  He asked for a more in-depth audit of union finances, but was rebuffed by Hunter, who felt their past audit was sufficient.  The union’s executive committee sided with Hunter and voted 8-0 to ask for Fisher’s resignation as president.

This is an example of the potential consequences of being a whistleblower of questionable ethical practices.  Not only is Fisher’s position as president in a tenuous position, his courage might result in ostracism within the union management structure during the rest of his playing career and afterwards.  Even though his actions might result in less influence and future earning capacity, he demonstrated strong moral character in seeking further examination of union management practices.

In all likelihood, Hunter probably granted full disclosure of his hires and might not have violated any laws.  However, one must wonder if he used his leadership power legitimately.  Were law firms unduly influenced to hire his relatives in order to land lucrative law contracts with the union?  Even if all parties met qualifications, what type of hiring practices were used to bring both his daughter and daughter-in-law into high-paying union positions?  A full audit could answer those questions, but Hunter’s reluctance to cooperate will only damage his credibility to the outside world.

This situation could have been avoided by establishing a more open, transparent management style.  While there is no reason to question the competence or qualifications of his son, two daughters, and daughter-in-law, a morally sound leader would have established a formal hiring process where multiple individuals have the freedom and power to hire and retain talent.  In a competitive marketplace, one does not want to be constrained by bloodlines in fulfilling key functions within an organization.

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