There’s no reason for me to pretend this Derek Fisher-Billy Hunter feud isn’t personal for me.
It became personal the moment Fisher publicly threatened to sue me because I reported a major rift between Hunter and Fisher, the former executive director and current president of the NBA players union, respectively, during the 2011 NBA lockout.
In Oct. 2011, I wrote a column revealing that sources close to the labor negotiations told me Hunter and a member of the NBPA executive committee confronted Fisher regarding their suspicion that Fisher had undermined the union’s negotiating leverage by telling commissioner David Stern he could deliver the union at a 50-50 split on basketball-related income.
Fisher responded to my column by threatening a lawsuit. He released a statement to the media.
“The statements made in recent articles on the Fox Sports website are inexcusable. Among the many baseless accusations, to allege that I am working with the league for my personal gain is unequivocally false. The implication that I am doing anything but working in the best interests of the players is disgusting, defamatory and a flat out lie. I have issued a letter through my attorneys demanding a retraction for the libelous and defamatory stories the site and reporter continued to publish.”
Fisher never sued. Billy Hunter did. He filed suit Thursday morning in California accusing Fisher, among other things, of undermining the union during the 2011 lockout.
The lawsuit charges that Fisher “engaged in secret negotiations with team owners to end their 2011 lockout on terms beneficial to the owners, himself and certain players.”
Hunter stated: “It’s unfortunate that I must take this action against an organization (NBPA) where I had the privilege of working with many dedicated associates over 17 years. … But I cannot let stand attacks on my character or accept what has been done.”
After the lockout, Fisher ordered an investigation into Hunter’s hiring practices and business dealings. The eight-month, $4 million investigation revealed one of the worst-kept secrets in all of sports: Hunter ran the union like a mom-and-pop store, hired relatives and funneled business to companies that employed his relatives. Fisher used the report to sway the union to fire Hunter.
I’ve never objected to Hunter’s ouster. Throughout the lockout, the feud between Hunter and Fisher and all the events that transpired in their aftermaths, I’ve maintained that Fisher and Hunter were equally culpable for the union’s ineptness and impotence.
What has bothered me is the lack of objectivity shown on this story from the overwhelming majority of the NBA media. Hunter was portrayed as a bumbling, unethical idiot while Fisher was hailed as a high-integrity leader beyond reproach.
More than a year ago, long before Hunter was ousted, the union’s executive committee voted 8-0 to have Fisher resign as president. In April of 2012, the executive committee released a statement that it believed Fisher had undermined the union during the lockout:
“The Executive Committee based its decision on numerous instances over the past six months, where Fisher engaged in conduct detrimental to the union, including acting in contravention of the players’ best interests, during collective bargaining, declining to follow the NBPA Constitution, and failing to uphold the duties of the Union President.”
Fisher refused to resign. He launched a counter-offensive that removed Hunter as executive director.
Hunter’s wrongs do not make Fisher right. Hunter and Fisher can both be wrong. That has been my position from the outset.
Derek Fisher is conniving. Don’t take my word for it. Ask a Utah Jazz fan. Years ago, he used his daughter’s health as an excuse to get out of Utah. Just this past season, Fisher hid behind his alleged desire to spend time with his family to get out of playing for the Dallas Mavericks. Thinking he could steal another title, he later signed with the Oklahoma City Thunder.
“Look, my personality is to try to help somebody,” Mark Cuban told reporters when the Mavericks played Fisher and the Thunder. “Particularly somebody I thought one way about, even though it didn’t turn out to be that way. I was just trying to be nice and help. Usually when you help somebody, you expect some semblance of loyalty back. So when you don’t get it, it’s more disappointing.”
I hope Billy Hunter wins his lawsuit and continues to expose Fisher as a back-stabber. Maybe then the players’ union will realize it needs a new president as much as it needs a new executive director.