Billy Hunter says Kobe Bryant told him take labor deal with NBA
Jeff Zillgitt, USA TODAY Sports
For the first time since Billy Hunter filed his lawsuit against the National Basketball Players Association and Derek Fisher, he revealed on Thursday in court documents who called during the 2011 lockout and told him to accept a 50-50 deal with the NBA because a side deal already been reached.
It was Kobe Bryant, according to a document Hunter filed on Los Angeles County Superior Court.
In the complaint filed on May 16, the player is referred to as Player No. 1.
Everyone now knows that player is Bryant, according to Hunter.
In Hunter's recent filing, he states, "Late in the evening before the [October 28, 2011] Waldorf Astoria meeting, I was already in bed for the night when my phone rang. The caller identified himself as the 'Black Mamba.' I knew it was Kobe Bryant, a superstar player for the Los Angeles Lakers and the highest paid player in the NBA. He told me that his agent, Robert Pelinka, who was also known to me, was on the call with him. I knew that Bryant and Fisher were friends and former teammates and shared an agent.
"Prior to this late-night phone call, Bryant had publicly supported the union's negotiating position. On the phone call, Bryant told me to agree to the new CBA at a 50-50 share of BRI (basketball-related income), saying, 'I know that tomorrow is a big day. You can put this thing to bed. Do the deal,' and also telling me, 'I got your back.' What Bryant and Pelinka were telling me is that a 50-50 deal had already been completed behind my back."
Hunter said he confronted Fisher, then the president of the executive committee comprised of players who represented NBA players during the lockout. According to the declaration filed Thursday, Hunter said, "I asked him whether he had been secretly negotiating directly with the owners. … Fisher did not deny the existence of the secret negotiations with NBA owners, but denied having had a role in them. Fisher said that it was Bryant and Pelinka who had engaged in secret negotiations with NBA Deputy Commissioner Adam Silver, adding that they had 'thrown (Fisher) under the bus.' "
Hunter, who was ousted as executive director of the NBPA at All-Star weekend in February, believes Fisher lied to him and concluded Fisher "had, in fact, been negotiating with the owners himself."
Hunter is suing the union, Fisher and Jamie Wior for compensation and punitive damages. The union was paying Hunter $3 million a year, and Hunter's contract originally ran through June 30, 2015.
However, the validity of that contract remains in question. An independent investigation into union practices conducted by the high-powered law firm Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison – which is also investigating the Richie Incognito-Jonathan Martin situation with the Miami Dolphins – concluded that Hunter's contract was never properly approved.
Hunter believes his contract was approved, and also on Wednesday, Hunter received support from former executive committee members Mo Evans, Etan Thomas and Theo Ratliff – all of him signed court declarations stating they believed Hunter's contract was valid.
"Given everything I know about Mr. Hunter's service to the union and the benefit the union received from Mr. Hunter's work, the union's current position that Mr. Hunter does not have a valid employment contract is outrageous," Ratliff said.
Evans said, "Fisher spoke up in support of Mr. Hunter's contract extension and said that Mr. Hunter deserved a new contract. There was universal support on the Executive Committee for the contract extension. In fact, no member of the Executive Committee disagreed with the decision to extend Mr. Hunter's contract. I was never informed at that time that the contract extension needed to be ratified by another group of NBA players. Mr. Hunter was treated as if his contract was final and binding."
The NBPA has tried to move on, electing Chris Paul its new president and named a new executive committee in August. The union is also searching for a new executive director and wants to at least have a small field of candidates by All-Star weekend in February. To that end, union officials are meeting with teams and naming new team representatives so that the union can vote for a new executive director when the time comes.
However, the fallout from the 2011 lockout won't go away. Hunter's lawsuit is active (no court date set), and Joseph Lombardo of Prim Capital pled guilty in mid-November to mail fraud and conspiracy to obstruct a grand jury investigation in connection with an attempt to defraud the NBPA. Hunter's son, Todd, had worked for Prim, which managed a portion of the union's assets. Carolyn Kaufman, also of Prim, faces similar charges and is scheduled to stand trial starting on Dec. 2.
I find it very hard to believe that Kobe would actually call the president of the players association and say "This is Black Mamba" over the phone.