The NBPA has been without an executive director — in effect, the organization's full-time leader — since its members voted to kick out longtime office-holder Billy Hunter in February 2013. After suffering significant losses during the 2011 lockout and seeing major revelations of alleged corruption under Hunter, the union needs functional gains and an image overhaul. While the organization can be forgiven for wanting to get this decision right, the search for the new director has not exactly been a smooth process. The NBPA appeared to have two finalists when it presented candidates to players at All-Star Weekend two months ago, but one prominent agent's accusations of a lack of transparency and a request for a whole new search called the whole operation into question.
Critics of the process have received some good news. On Monday, the NBPA announced that Sacramento mayor and three-time All-Star Kevin Johnson would lead its search committee to find for an executive director. From Brian Mahoney for the Associated Press:
''Mayor Johnson is in a unique position as a former player and someone skilled in the politics of negotiations to lead this effort. We all witnessed his Herculean efforts to save his hometown Sacramento Kings from relocating, and I'm confident he'll bring the same leadership to our search for a new executive director,'' union president Chris Paul of the Los Angeles Clippers said in a statement.
Johnson will work with Paul and acting executive director Ron Klempner to keep players and agents aware of the process. [...]
''I believe the NBPA can set the standard for player representation in all professional sports,'' Johnson said. ''I thank President Chris Paul and the entire executive committee for the opportunity. Over the next few weeks I will be meeting with all of the player representatives and moving aggressively to build on the work that's been done.'' [...]
The NBPA said Monday it expects to have [an executive director] in place by the start of next season.
Johnson helped make his name in politics as a critic of teachers' unions and proponent of charter schools, but it appears that this particular labor organization aligns with his interests and experiences.
The announcement of this new committee does not appear to acknowledge any rejection of past search efforts, but it should come as a surprise to anyone who thought that the NBPA was moving along in finding Hunter's replacement. A committee like this one would figure to be put in place at the beginning of this process, not after a year of interviewing and assessing candidates. It's unclear why this group and related efforts to speak with players and team representatives weren't put into action as soon as the union began to search for a leader.
Regardless, we must also take stock of this committee in terms of the work it will now carry out. In that sense, it's easy to see why they chose Johnson for this role. As an NBA athlete from 1987 to 2000, Johnson was present during a period that saw incredible salary growth, the 1998-99 lockout, and the collective bargaining agreement that has served as the basis for this era of union-league relations. As mayor of Sacramento, he has successfully worked with NBA executives (including commissioner Adam Silver) to keep the Kings in town and gotten a sense of what's required to maintain ownership of a franchise. For all these reasons, Johnson is respected by both players and league employees alike.
As such, his appointment suggests that the NBPA is paying more attention to its public image. Although Johnson doesn't figure to do much of the grunt work required to collect information and find reasonable candidates, he should help present the union as the serious organization it deserves to be. The hard work is still to come, but this move is a solid first step towards turning the NBPA into a more widely respected organization. Whether that change makes any difference on the next round of negotiations with the NBA remains to be seen.
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