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On the NBA: Prodding Around the NBA’s Veil

The NBA doesn’t have to tell us too much about how they run their business—many don’t. The cipherous nature of companies as big and ubiquitous as this one is a thing that terrifies so many of us at our day-jobs. When we don’t know what’s really going on, in the big picture, we feel small, and often helpless, and trapped. This is why President Obama’s utopian ideal of “transparency” is such an effective buzz word—it aims toward de-cloaking the powers that be. Doing such would be greatly empowering to the average man and woman; knowledge, of course, is power.

Unlike the U.S. Government, though, so many NBA figures—when things get sloppy—have to conduct themselves in laymen court-room scenarios; they aren’t privy to the secret legal sessions that birthed the startling reach of the NSA. And when this happens, as it has been over the past year with all things Billy Hunter (now former Executive Director of the NBA Players’ Union), their dealings become public. Transparency is achieved.

Well, sort of—court filings are composed by lawyers, and lawyers are inherently biased. They’re paid for that; for cementing the facts of their bias into airtight, judicially approved rhetoric. But there’s still no place where these biases are more naked than in a court of law, and there’s still no place that more directly squeezes out accounts of episodes we might not otherwise hear.

Billy Hunter filed a complaint, earlier this year. In it, he accuses then-NBPA president Derek Fisher of quite a few things. Fisher, the complaint claims, schemed with “Certain Owners,” in secret, in order to end the 2011 Lockout sooner. The complaint says that his motive in doing this was getting back onto the court; as an older player, his time to make more money in the league was (and, of course, still today, is) dwindling. He had less to lose than the players he was bargaining for—his earning potential’s best days were behind him.

If this accusation is true—if Fisher is in fact a major player in what turned out to be a Collective Bargaining Agreement that’s greatly unfavorable to the players—then Fisher would have been acting well outside of his NBPA authority, as the organization’s rules made Hunter, at the time, the sole person of CBA negotiating authority.

Fisher then went on, the complaint says, to create pretext which had Hunter dismissed from his post, in the form of an investigation of Hunter’s work for the NBPA—that, too, is publicly available, and its findings look pretty bad for Hunter, ranging from negligence to nepotism. Fisher’s friend/manager Jamie Wior, the complaint says, sought to take Hunter’s post, and was also instrumental in the CBA negotiations, as well as enacting the investigation of Hunter.

The Hunter complaint gets quite a bit more complicated (you can read it yourself), but these are its major claims.

The search for new NBPA leadership is still ongoing, led up by Jerry Stackhouse, who was none too pleased with the work of Hunter, or Fisher. He’s not alone, either: many players have spoken out against the new CBA, which, again, puts a hugely reductive cap on the revenues rights of players. Maybe Stackhouse will find an executive who gives greater volume to this (completely understandable) outcry.

It seems pointless to dig too much deeper into this specific instance, though, as the true events surrounding the new CBA will likely be obscured forever by the mess made from so many sparrings between high-powered lawyers of the 1%. Hunter is certainly losing the PR side of the battle (and badly), but if his allegations are true, it must be noted what he’s up against is way, way bigger than him. 

What’s already plain, however, is that the players got screwed, one way or another, and it seems more than likely that some extra-legal activity allowed this to pass.

This is not the first time such suspicions of the league’s nefariousness have found footing. Many Seattle-ites will be happy to recant to you the extremely shady series of events which led to their team’s move to Oklahoma City, and remind you, as Zach Lowe recently did, that Thunder owner Clay Bennett’s relationship with David Stern is believed by many to be unduly advantageous. The NBA is, after all, now footing large parts of Kevin Durant’s contract.

But a less reported-on instance is Seattle’s latest failure to re-acquire a team. The facts of that episode, too, are likely to be hidden from the public. What seems clear, here, is that the hysteria surrounding the destination of the Kings was as typical as it gets, in these scenarios; Seattle’s investment group was the “hard to get” bargaining chip that the league—the collection of team owners whose rampantly capitalistic enterprises have ironically led to their socialist-resembling revenue-sharing system—used to convince the city of Sacramento that they, not the NBA, had to fund a new stadium. As it usually does, this strategy worked, and the notion that the team could have ever moved to Seattle seems, months later, like a mere diversion.

In any event, the result of these happenings is significant in that it moves beyond the legal wrasslings of fellow members of the 1%. Sacramento’s losing this battle means decades and decades of a poor city’s money being spent on a stadium that’s a platform for more gains of billionaires who could’ve easily built it themselves. Some have taken notice.

The circumstance is a typical one: the city of Detroit just filed for bankruptcy and agreed to pay for half of a new hockey stadium, in the same week; the city of Chicago closed down dozens of schools this year in the face of a pension crisis, and then gave over $50 million to DePaul University for a new basketball stadium.  

But the NBA itself, like the government, somehow stays out of the courts, so their methods remain relatively secret, and their actions remain unchecked by powerful arms. Their veil is strong.

Here’s hoping that this somehow changes—that the NBA’s newly golden financial age is eventually exposed for its starkly owner-favoring ways, and someone peeved and powerful enough (perhaps an invigorated NBPA, buttressed by players who realize the impact of their capital) sees fit to bring the league to a venue where it must make itself more transparent, and allow us all to more truly re-evaluate our role in this sports machine that we keep daily moving.

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