During NBA All-Star weekend members of the NBA players' union will… (Frank Franklin II / Associated…)
Hunter will be Houston's problem
Hit the parties, pretend to play defense and decide the fate of the longtime chief of their labor union.
The agenda for All-Star weekend received a somber addendum this week for members of the NBA players' union who will participate in their league's midseason showcase Feb. 17 in Houston.
The union must determine whether to fire Billy Hunter after the head of the organization was placed on indefinite paid leave after a scathing report that disclosed dubious business practices and nepotism.
Hunter, the executive director of the players association since 1996, shifted into damage-control mode after the report's release, firing three family members who worked in the league offices. He also severed the union's contract with Prim Capital, a financial services firm that employs his son, Todd.
None of Hunter's moves swayed those calling for his dismissal.
Derek Fisher, the former Laker and president of the union's executive committee, called for "immediate change," a sentiment backed by influential player agent Arn Tellem in a 1,500-word letter to his clients.
Thomas Ashley, Hunter's attorney, said his client had not been allowed to respond to the audit and criticized the suspension, contending it was not supported by the constitution or the bylaws of the players association.
The 30 player representatives are expected to vote on Hunter's fate Feb. 16 after hearing from the law firm that conducted the audit of Hunter's practices. The audit found that Hunter's $18-million contract had not been approved and was unenforceable, and that he had spent more than $100,000 of union funds on gifts for executive committee members.
Hunter's worries extend beyond his future with the players' union. He is being investigated by the United States attorney's office in Manhattan and the federal Labor Department.
Taking flight in Rio Grande
It's game on for Royce White.
The Houston Rockets' first-round draft pick whose NBA debut has been delayed by a dispute with the franchise over the handling of his mental health issues has reached an agreement to play for the Rio Grande Valley Vipers of the Development League.
White, who has an extreme fear of flying, is expected to report to the Vipers on Feb. 11, at which point 14 of their remaining 21 games will be at home. He plans to take a bus to as many road games as possible but has also agreed to fly when necessary in a move that could be a prelude to playing for the Rockets.
The Rockets suspended White for three weeks this season after he refused to report to the Vipers over concerns that front-office executives were ignoring the advice of White's doctors. That no longer appears to be the case.
"They said we're going to hit the reset button," White told USA Today, "that mental health disorders need to be accommodated and there needs to be a place for mental health conditions in the NBA."
White doesn't have a special game plan for his first flight with the Vipers.
"I'm just going to let myself be nervous," he said. "Trying to fight it makes it even worse. It's like trying to fight throwing up. You keep feeling sick."