If you think pro athletes speaking out against some of the moves their players union has and is attempting to make is rare, understand that it isn’t. Throughout baseball, football and pro hockey, various public factions and flare-ups go on record all the time. The NBPA, especially in recent years and certainly in the months surrounding the 2011 NBA lockout, remained a united front. And because that front was lined up behind executive director Billy Hunter, the front hasn’t moved in the right direction of late.
Hunter is currently on a leave of absence, with the expectation that he’ll be asked to step down later this month as the head of the league’s players association. On Wednesday, Los Angeles Lakers star Kobe Bryant called for his fellow players, and especially stars, to show more activity when it comes to immersing themselves in the details of their union representation. On Thursday, Brooklyn Nets veteran Jerry Stackhouse was the first to come out against longtime Bryant teammate and union president Derek Fisher, who is waging a war to oust Hunter.
In Fisher, Stackhouse apparently sees someone who is complicit with Hunter. From the Detroit News’ Vincent Goodwill:
"Derek has stepped up and has really tried to grab the reins but I think he has to go too," he said. "If you're not aware of everything that's happened on your watch for so long, I think the whole system is flawed."
"He's talked so much about what he's done," Stackhouse said. "We have shorter salaries, a hard cap. Make sure you take credit for that, too."
It’s possible that the division between Hunter and Fisher led to the 2011 lockout prolonging longer than it had to, though we all know that the terrible and impetuous financial decisions owners made with players for years was the real reason the NBA needed another break to save its owners from themselves.
It’s not surprising that someone like Stackhouse would want to completely clean house. Remember, this the NBA — midseason coach firings are often met with a yawn when an assistant (even a much-respected assistant) takes over. Stack has been through that before with Alvin Gentry and George Irvine in Detroit, or Avery Johnson in Dallas, or his current coach P.J. Carlesimo. All four are thought of highly, and Avery ended up making the Finals with Stack in 2006, but there’s not an interim-inspired ring among them.
What’s also not surprising, but fully frustrating, is that neither Bryant nor Stackhouse — two smart guys who have been in the NBA since the mid 1990s — never mentioned the most serious charges behind Hunter’s recent tenure. The allegations of questionable business practices, misuse of funds and nepotism are significant.
They probably weren’t glossed over as Stackhouse and Bryant spoke to reporters on game days this week, we don’t doubt that they consider the allegations to be severe … but neither player deigned to mention them. Stackhouse spoke of shorter contracts and more punitive luxury tax penalties that create a hard salary cap of sorts. Bryant spoke in vague (but completely necessary and on point) leadership terms. Neither questioned, on record at least, where all the cash went.
The players have a week before they head to Houston for All-Star Weekend to bone up on what’s gone wrong, if Hunter’s still-unapproved contract should be signed off on and if Fisher is the next logical head step to continue to act as union president. To Stackhouse’s credit, he appears to be drawing a line in the sand. From Goodwill’s interview:
"I plan on going to make my point. I won't be surprised if Billy was there; with all he's done, he'll try to show his face and act as if [it's] business as usual," Stackhouse said. "The same thing with Derek. They can't operate as if [it's] business as usual. They've shown their flaws too much to still continue in their positions."
It’s hard to figure out, considering Fisher’s staunch opposition to Hunter’s permanence, how Fisher hasn’t been acting “business as usual.” In between now and the vote on Billy Hunter’s future, though, I suppose both fans and Jerry Stackhouse will figure out quite a bit more of what’s gone on behind the scenes.