Chris Paul has already seemingly done the impossible by turning the long-languishing Los Angeles Clippers into a force in the Western Conference. Now he’s taken on another big task — rebuilding the reeling NBA players’ association.
Paul was elected president of the players’ union Wednesday, replacing Derek Fisher and giving an organization cloaked in turmoil some much-needed star power at the top.
The vote by NBA player representatives came six months after the union fired Billy Hunter as executive director, a position that remains vacant and follows about 18 months of in-fighting and drama that occurred during the negotiations for the latest collective bargaining agreement. Hunter countered with a wrongful-termination lawsuit in May, accusing Fisher of conspiring with NBA officials during the 2011 lockout.
”It’s not about me as president or the first vice president, it’s about the players as a whole,” Paul said in a conference call Wednesday night.
One of Paul’s greatest gifts on the court is an ability to get everyone involved and make his teammates better. Now he’ll try to do the same thing with the union. After the lockout ended and the lawsuits started to take hold, there was a feeling among many players and observers that putting a big name in the big chair would help galvanize the group and get star players interested in participating again.
That once was commonplace, with marquee players Bob Cousy, Oscar Robertson, Alex English and Isiah Thomas all serving as union presidents. But Paul, a six-time All-Star who is widely regarded as the best point guard in the league, is the first big star to hold the top spot since Patrick Ewing’s run ended in 2001. Role players Michael Curry, Antonio Davis and Fisher, who had been in charge since 2006, followed Ewing.
”That wasn’t a requirement, but I think it gives us a little more oomph, I guess, having somebody like him wanting to step up and take on that role,” Charlotte Bobcats forward Anthony Tolliver said in a phone interview. ”It means a lot.”
Paul served as a vice president for the last four years, so he has intimate knowledge of the inner workings of the union, and the trouble that engulfed it recently.
”It was something I saw as a challenge, something I knew I’d be able to handle,” Paul said. ”It’s an unbelievable opportunity, a lot of responsibility comes with this position but I’m very fortunate to have an outstanding of committee guys. The past couple of days have been outstanding, the dialogue we’ve had as an executive committee also with the players that have come in town, it was amazing.”
The decision to appoint a new executive director to replace Hunter will come at a later date.
”We definitely discussed (hiring an executive director), but there’s no rush,” Paul said. ”For us, it’s all about getting our house in order and making sure that everything moves right in that direction.”
In meetings at the Venetian Hotel, Roger Mason Jr. was elected first vice president. He replaced Jerry Stackhouse, who resigned from the office and is expected to take a position within the union.
There are several issues that the league has been waiting to discuss with the union while they searched for new leadership, most notably the possible implementation of testing for HGH. Commissioner David Stern, who is retiring in February and handing the reins over to deputy commissioner Adam Silver, has said multiple times this summer that testing for HGH was a priority.
”Chris is an All-Star player and person and we look forward to working with him,” Silver said in a statement.
Tolliver, who has long been one of the most devoted player representatives in the league, and Steve Blake were elected vice presidents, filling the executive committee positions vacated by Paul and Mason.
”This is not a position that’s about me or one person,” Paul said. ”It’s about the collective group and the players and I think from my experience … it’s about growing the game and expanding our brand and continue to get our players involved as we can and make sure our voice is heard. The guys here just understand it’s our union, there’s no one person that is bigger than the group.”
Paul said the union needed a ”rebuild,” and he was looking forward to rolling up his sleeves and getting to work. Tolliver agreed, saying it was time for a ”fresh start” after a messy time in the union’s history.
”We want to make sure that nothing remotely close that has gone on in the union in the past 12 months or so will ever happen again,” Tolliver said. ”It’s a huge job. It’s a huge responsibility. I’m glad to be a part of that.”
Paul’s ascension could pave the way for more involvement from the biggest names in the game. LeBron James considered running for the job before deciding against it, and Paul is an All-NBA first team player who has been tight with James for years.
”Since I’ve been in the NBA the superstars have come to a few meetings here and there, every once in a while, but not very often,” Tolliver said. ”The fact that (James) even considered doing that lets me know that he’s going to be more involved in the future. … Especially him being the face of our game, we want to have him involved as much as possible. Not only him, we want all the guys that carry our brand to be a part of this.”