HOUSTON -- For the first time since the Barcelona Olympics, we finally caught a glimpse of how devastatingly powerful an NBA team would be if all the stars united for the sole purpose of issuing a thorough and convincing spanking.
Well, actually, Billy Hunter found out first-hand.
It was no contest, really, when the embattled executive director of the player's union stood in the way of a determined firing squad. Especially when LeBron James demanded the ball. Hunter was ousted in a unanimous vote Saturday after LeBron raised hell and others joined in. Suddenly, this lopsided contest turned into Dream Team vs. Angola.
The players were understandably angry after spending millions on a nine-month investigation that detailed questionable spending and staffing habits by Hunter in a 469-page report. He was rather liberal with his dinner receipts and gifts, let's just say. Also, he had more family on the payroll than the Corleones. All of this set off the radar of Derek Fisher, the union president, whose relationship with Hunter turned nuclear in the final days of the last labor negotiation two years ago.
When the vote was 24-0, Fisher was all too eager to essentially throw his arms into the air and dance around Hunter's fallen body with a stinging and direct response:
"This is our union, and we've taken it back," said Fisher from a statement. "We want to make it clear that we are here to serve only the best interest of the players. No threats, no lies, no distractions will stop us from serving our membership."
This was a big victory for those players who had beef with Hunter -- not all of them did -- and a group of influential agents who never liked Hunter and thought he did a lousy job on the last labor agreement. But you really must wonder what exactly the players won. Their freedom and peace of mind? Sure, absolutely. Maybe saved face? OK, fine. And yet, their wallets will vehemently disagree.
The scent of a lawsuit is almost as powerful as that vote and Hunter will no doubt try to get his pound of flesh. He felt he wasn't afforded due process. He was due $10 million in a disputed pay raise and after all of the lawyering is done, the union will write a check to, at the very least, cover their legal bills. The size of that check could quadruple if Hunter is successful in snatching some revenge.
His defense: He wasn't given the chance to respond to the findings of the investigation or explain the issues. He wasn't even invited to his own firing.
So, let's do the math here. If Hunter walks away with 75 percent of his frozen future earnings, plus legal fees, plus we add whatever salary the union gives the next executive director, we're talking roughly $10 million to replace one guy with another who has no labor contract to negotiate for the next five or six years.
That's more money than Hunter allegedly wasted. That's financial insanity. After the issue runs its legal course, which might take a while without a settlement, who's really going to win this game?
Even Fisher knows what's about to blow his way.
"We do not doubt that this process will possibly continue in an ugly way," he said. "
The one saving grace for the union: State and federal agencies are also looking into the policies and procedures of the union under Hunter, and if those turn up anything illegal, that would effectively provide a lethal kick to Hunter while he's down. That's exactly what the players are banking on, that Hunter gets popped by the feds and the entire episode finally ends without the players spending a cent.
All in all, the players did what they had to do by axing Hunter, even if it winds up costing them a fortune and a bit of embarrassment. The union under Hunter became infamous for the number of players who showed a passing interest, or none at all, about union business. They left it largely up to Hunter to handle complex issues while they played ball, an arrangement that's not uncommon between players and their agents. Only until Fisher and a half-dozen agents called Hunter on his practices did players take notice. And even then, six team reps didn't even vote on Hunter's fate Saturday.
Hunter was the director since 1996 and steered the players through two labor contracts that, given comparisons to other sports unions, appeared quite fair if not favorable to the players. They're the best-compensated athletes in team sports and while they had to concede six percent of the pie due to the economy, enjoy reasonable free agency rules and pay raises.
But again, there's no urgency to even fill the director's chair right away. The current labor contract won't expire until at least another five years. Essentially, there's nothing major for a director to do. Hunter already performed the heavy lifting.
And the players felt he did some shady lifting, too. He's gone but, with the legal fight about to begin, believes he won't be forgotten very quickly.
The players and Hunter are aiming for another round, and this time, like in the 2004 Olympics, Hunter hopes to spring a major upset against a stacked group of stars.
"I do not consider today's vote the end," he said in a statement. "Only a different beginning."
This could go into triple overtime.