OAKLAND, Calif. (CN) – NBA players union president Derek Fisher made secret deals with team owners during the 2011 lockout, for his own benefit, then “waged a personal campaign” to replace G. William Hunter as the union boss, Hunter claims in court.
Hunter sued the National Basketball Players Association (NBPA), its president Derek Fisher, and Jamie Wior, Fisher’s publicist, in Alameda County Court.
Hunter claims he helped bring NBA players the highest average salary of the four major sports leagues in the United States, thanks to the 2005 collective bargaining agreement with team owners.
That agreement expired on June 30, 2011. Negotiations on a new agreement began in late 2010, but on July 1, 2011, the NBA owners locked out the players. The NBA then began canceling preseason and regular season games.
Some team owners were not happy with the 2005 agreement and were “determined to take back a share of NBA revenues from the players,” Hunter says in the complaint.
He claims these owners “received aid in their strategy from an unlikely source, the president of the NBPA – Derek Fisher.”
Fisher had only one year left on his contract, and, nearing the end of his playing career, was under pressure to secure a “soft landing” for himself, Hunter claims.
“Fisher knew that the key to finding a well-paying position with the NBA or a team’s front office was maintaining good relationships with the NBA and team owners,” the complaint states. “Also, each game canceled during the lockout represented income that Fisher would never realize and would be unlikely to recover because his remaining player career was limited. For Fisher, the lockout could not end soon enough. For similar reasons, some of the highest compensated NBA players (‘Certain Players’), and their agents, shared Fisher’s sentiment that the lockout must end.”
Hunter claims that Fisher’s publicist, Jamie Wior, “harbored aspirations to assume a position of responsibility within the NBPA. She set out to craft a new public persona for Fisher, taking control of his media appearances and public statements and encouraging him to overreach his authority by, for example, publicly speaking on behalf of the NBPA and disseminating messages to the players even when it was not appropriate for him to do so. Wior also inserted herself into the NBPA’s internal affairs and evening into NBA players-only meetings,” Hunter says in the complaint.
Hunter claims that as executive director of the players’ union, he had the sole right to negotiate a new agreement. He claims that he refused to relinquish players’ income to the owners, and the players supported him on this, he says.
“Unbeknownst to Hunter, however, Fisher was secretly negotiating with the certain owners – on his own and without any authority – to settle the negotiations on terms less favorable to the players,” Hunter says in the complaint.
The complaint continues: “Fisher was supported in this effort by Wior. When Hunter learned that Fisher was negotiating for his personal benefit and against the bulk of the NBA players’ interests, he confronted Fisher about his secret dealings with the certain owners. Fisher denied the truth, both to Hunter’s face and subsequently in the press.”
Hunter claims that Fisher’s actions undermined the union’s negotiating power and the players ultimately accepted a new agreement “that left them with a greatly reduced share of the NBA’s revenues.”
Hunter claims that he himself was then “assigned blame for the new, less lucrative CBA even though his negotiating efforts had been sabotaged by Fisher’s machinations.”
After the negotiations concluded, Hunter says in the complaint, “Fisher waged a personal campaign to displace Hunter as the union’s executive director, including denying that Fisher had ever had authority to sign Hunter’s employment contract and instigating an investigation that eventually was used as a pretext by Fisher and the NBPA to terminate Hunter without cause.”
Hunter was fired on Feb. 17 this year. He claims that Fisher’s retaliation against him for having confronted Fisher about his secret negotiations was a substantial factor leading to his termination.
Hunter seeks punitive damages for breach of contract, interference with contract, defamation, intentional misrepresentation and other charges.
He is represented by David Anderson with Sidley Austin in San Francisco.
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