Is Billy Hunter The Players’ Weak Link?

Billy HunterAs the clock ticks towards midnight and we wait for the padlocks to clamp shut, there is, perhaps, a sign of weakness within the player ranks.  

According to Yahoo’s Adrian Wojnarowski, Shane Battier challenged Billy Hunter during a recent players association meeting by asking him if he’d do what NFL union head DeMaurice Smith did, and take a $1 salary for the length of the lockout

The mere suggestion seemed to offend Hunter, players witnessing the exchange privately told Yahoo! Sports. After Hunter told Battier he hadn’t given it much thought, members of the union’s executive board came to Hunter’s defense. Hunter had taken the union from the red to the black in his term, done a good job, they said. Hunter never did give Battier a firm answer, nor would he answer the question for Yahoo! Sports on Wednesday.

Salary can be a touchy subject within pockets of the union, especially since it leaves some questioning the urgency and motivation for Hunter to work for a deal. Two years ago, Hunter had gone to the Players Association and asked that he be compensated for several years’ worth of unused vacation time. There was resistance to the request, but eventually the union board agreed to award him $1.1 million, the Sports Business Journal reported. Hunter makes a little more than $2 million a year as the union’s executive director.

As Woj states in his piece, that’s a lot of money for someone to be making while the people he’s leading make none.  People tend to forget that its the players who pay Hunter with their union dues.  The union rank-and-file can force a change if they’re not happy with their representation.  And I’ll admit that the headline asks a more provocative question than what may actually be the case.  But a respected player grandstanding and forcing the union chief to hem and haw isn’t exactly the picture of unity.  

The players will need to be unified in the face of a ridiculous proposal by the owners.  These guys are in for a fight.  The owners are trying to completely re-make the NBA’s financial system.  No matter how you spin it, the owners’ proposal radically changes things.  If Hunter has anything less than full union support, the billionaire owners will drag this thing out until the union cracks.  

This is a high-stakes poker game.  Each side is looking for a “tell” to see if they should loosen up and negotiate, or dig in their heels.  Battier’s move might mean nothing, but there’s no doubt owners are now watching this closely.

AP Photo via