Even under an avalanche of findings, the meticulous takedown of National Basketball Players Association executive director Billy Hunter on Thursday raised some questions that can't quite be answered.
Chief among them: Since Hunter said in a statement defending his actions as union leader that he plans to continue in his role, what is the procedure for removing him, if that's what players decide they want?
The answer is caught in the tangled web of poor governance, vague procedures and sketchy bylaws that govern the union.
In the union's constitution and bylaws -- Exhibit 7 in the 469-page report issued Thursday by a New York law firm retained to investigate the union in April, 2012 -- there is no specific procedure outlined for the removal of an executive director. The bylaws call for an executive director's contract to be approved by two-thirds of the nine-player executive committee and two-thirds of the 30 player reps. This was not done in the case of the contract extension Hunter received in June, 2010, the report stated. Instead, it was approved only by the executive committee and signed by union president Derek Fisher, whose questions about Hunter's business practices later helped launch the probe.
This finding is crucial. If Hunter's contract had been legitimately approved, players and agents seeking to oust him against his will would've been left searching for a legal interpretation on how to fire him. Labor law sources say one approach might have been to ask a court to interpret the two-thirds vote necessary for hiring an executive director to equate to the process for his removal. Depending on how hard Hunter, 70, wanted to fight, this could have been problematic.
If the law firm is correct in its finding that the union is not required to recognize Hunter's contract, the path to Hunter's removal would effectively be cleared.
Even then, the union leadership is in disarray, leaving only two players that the law firm of Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison recognized as legitimate executive committee members: Fisher, the president, and the Spurs' Matt Bonner, a vice president. The other seven are ineligible for executive committee posts because A) their terms have expired, B) they have not been under contract with an NBA team this season, or C) both.
The report stated that it was "reasonable" for Fisher to continue as president since he had played with a team this season and has not announced plans to retire. Bonner was elected as a vice president in February 2011.
The report recommended a long list of changes to union procedures, including updating the bylaws to specify requirements for executive committee membership and ensuring that appropriate elections are held for player reps (the report found this has rarely, if ever, been done.)
So based on its recommendation that players should consider Hunter's future at meetings scheduled for All-Star weekend next month, it would seem that the union needs to properly elect a full roster of 30 player reps (and alternates) and then hold elections for the other seven positions on the executive committee. The report did not specify by what means the player reps and committee members would then vote on whether Hunter should stay or go -- perhaps because, in the investigators' view, no such vote is necessary since Hunter's inappropriately approved contract is not valid.
Fisher did not escape unscathed in the report due to his receipt of a $22,000 watch in June, 2011, as a gift from Hunter paid for with union funds and his approval of Hunter's controversial contract extension. But Fisher, whose questions about Hunter's hiring practices and business dealings ultimately prompted the business review and ongoing U.S. Attorney's office investigation, issued a statement Thursday saying it was his "hope" that the law firm conducted a "thorough review of the NBPA and addressed the concerns of countless players, staff and myself.
"As there is an ongoing investigation by the government as well," Fisher said, "I hope that this is a chance for us to become an upstanding, strong organization with the sole purpose of serving the best interests of current and future players."