Arn Tellem Becomes First Agent To Call For Dismissal Of Billy Hunter
By HOWARD BECK
Published: January 29, 2013
Arn Tellem, one of the N.B.A.’s most powerful player agents, is calling for the ouster of the union chief Billy Hunter, a step he is urging his clients to take next month during the annual players’ meeting at the league’s All-Star weekend in Houston.
Using stark, unambiguous terms, Tellem outlined his position in a 1,500-word letter sent to his players Monday night. In the letter, which was obtained by The New York Times, Tellem blasts Hunter’s record as executive director of the National Basketball Players Association and accuses him of using the union for personal gain.
The letter comes two weeks after the release of an outside audit that heavily criticized Hunter’s hiring practices and expenditures and questioned his judgment on a wide array of issues.
“N.B.A. players deserve better representation from the union they fund,” Tellem writes in the letter. “I implore you and your fellow players to take control of your union and your future. It’s time for Mr. Hunter to go.”
Tellem suggests that players should make that decision when the players association holds its annual All-Star meeting on the weekend of Feb. 15 to 17. That is also when the players will discuss the recent audit, by the law firm Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison. Representatives of the firm are expected to present the findings and answer questions.
In his letter, Tellem suggests that Hunter should not be allowed to attend that meeting to prevent him from any attempt “to intimidate and manipulate.” Tellem writes: “Hunter is betting that the players — historically passive — will let him slide. I hope you don’t. Clearly, Hunter has violated your trust.”
Hunter could not immediately be reached for comment.
Tellem, the vice chairman of the Wasserman Media Group, is the first major agent to call for Hunter’s dismissal. His influence is considerable. Tellem’s firm represents about 50 current players, about 12 percent of the union’s membership, more than any other agency. Top clients include Derrick Rose of the Chicago Bulls, Russell Westbrook of the Oklahoma City Thunder, Pau Gasol of the Los Angeles Lakers and Joe Johnson of the Nets.
A number of Tellem clients — including Kris Humphries of the Nets, Kendrick Perkins of the Thunder and Brandon Knight of the Detroit Pistons — serve as player representatives, the group that helps set the union’s agenda.
If Tellem can rally a majority of his players, it could create the momentum for a massive upheaval in the union’s leadership. Hunter, 70, has held his position since 1996, guiding the union through three collective bargaining agreements and two costly lockouts.
No other agents have publicly called for Hunter’s dismissal. But Tellem seems likely to find significant support for the stand he is taking, given the intense disdain for Hunter that several other major agents share with Tellem.
During the 2011 lockout Tellem joined five other powerful agents in calling for the union to decertify — an action that would have removed Hunter from his post while providing the players with a new legal avenue. Hunter resisted the effort, further alienating those agents.
That group included Jeff Schwartz, Dan Fegan, Bill Duffy, Mark Bartelstein and Leon Rose, all of whom have deep stables of clients, including many of the league’s top stars. Deron Williams, the Nets’ star point guard and a Schwartz client, was the first prominent player to call for Hunter’s dismissal after the audit was released this month.
Tellem devotes a major portion of his letter to criticizing Hunter’s handling of the lockout, saying that the union chief was “tactically, strategically and logistically unprepared” and that Commissioner David Stern “outmaneuvered Mr. Hunter from the get-go.” The decision to reject decertification, Tellem writes, showed that Hunter was “more concerned with saving his job and salary than in making the best deal for the players.”
The procedure for firing Hunter is not entirely clear, although it would presumably begin with the 60 or so player representatives (two from each team). The union also has a nine-player executive board, but that board has seven vacancies because of the union’s failure to hold an election within the last year. An election is scheduled for All-Star weekend.
Hunter defended his record after the audit was released on Jan. 17, noting that it cleared him of any criminal wrongdoing or misappropriation of union money. But the audit faulted Hunter in several areas, among them: hiring family members and friends without disclosing potential conflicts of interest; cashing out $1.3 million in vacation time without proper review; and signing a new five-year contract, worth up to $18 million, without approval by the player representatives.
The law firm conducting the audit concluded that Hunter’s contract was not valid or enforceable, and it suggested that the players should consider replacing him. It also found instances in which Hunter tried to silence his critics, including a player who raised nepotism concerns.
The union is also the subject of a continuing investigation by the United States attorney’s office.
In his letter, Tellem says the law firm’s findings “leave no doubt” that Hunter “put his personal gain above those of the players.”
“The audit was quite thorough,” Tellem writes, “and the firm’s conclusions about Mr. Hunter’s financial indiscretions and fiduciary breaches are alarming, if not downright shocking.”
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