NBA

Hunter defends contract status

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HOUSTON (AP)

Unable to secure an invitation to address NBA players directly, embattled union executive director Billy Hunter has released online his response to a report that criticized his leadership.

Hunter's lawyers say his 2010 contract extension was valid and the leave of absence he's been placed on is not. They say if ratification of his contract had been needed, it was president Derek Fisher's responsibility to get it, not Hunter's.

Hunter's contract was a central part of the review conducted by the law firm Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison LLP and released last month. The report urged players to discuss Hunter's future this weekend and said they had ''powerful arguments'' that the contract wouldn't be legal if an attempt to remove Hunter led to litigation.

Hunter had hoped to attend the players' meeting in Houston on Saturday during All-Star weekend, but he wasn't invited.

''While we are terribly disappointed that the NBPA will not afford Mr. Hunter the opportunity to address the players directly, we stand ready to press his claims in the appropriate forum,'' attorney Michael Carlinsky wrote in the rebuttal, posted at http://gbillyhunter.blogspot.com/

The attorneys argue that contract extensions were not governed by the same rules as appointments, so Hunter's most recent deal that increased his salary to $3 million a year didn't require the same ratification as his 1996 appointment to his position.

''Moreover, the report is simply mistaken that the approval of the board of players representatives was needed. Under the constitution and bylaws, such approval is only needed for the `appointment' of an Executive Director. It is not required to extend the contract of an already hired Executive Director.

''Finally, even if such approval was required, the constitution and bylaws are clear that the responsibility of obtaining such approval rests with the president of the NBPA, Mr. Fisher, not with Mr. Hunter.''

The Paul Weiss report was critical of Hunter's hiring of friends and family, questioned a $1.3 million payout he accepted for unused vacation time, and other items such as travel expenses and the purchase of gifts for executive committee members. Yet it found no evidence of criminal activity involving union funds.

Hunter's legal team ''believes the Paul Weiss report is rife with inaccuracies with respect to hiring, vacation payout, investment strategy and other business practices.''

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''The report also does not cite to a single NBPA policy or rule that Mr. Hunter allegedly violated,'' Carlinsky said. ''The report can best be characterized as one law firm's judgment by hindsight with which we respectfully disagree.''

Hunter was placed on leave on Feb. 1 by an interim executive committee of five players. Hunter's presentation that he planned to make to players this weekend says the union constitution requires a nine-member executive committee, saying administrative leave is not provided for in the constitution.

Players are expected to vote Saturday to fill the open positions on the executive committee. It is unclear what decision, if any, will be made about Hunter during the meeting.

The response urges them to consider Hunter's 17-year record, saying the NBPA was about $5 million in debt when Hunter took over and now has net assets of more than $80 million. It points to pension and health care plans, among other gains for the players, and notes that NBA players have the highest average salaries in team sports at more than $5 million per year.

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