Union of 1% Same as Those of Other 99%

You can spend this Monday holiday relaxing or you can delve into the 469-page, 46-exhibit independent report of the internal shortcomings of the National Basketball Players Association and its executive director, Billy Hunter.

I’ve mentioned this situation before, because it illustrates that multimillionaires have just as little interest in the daily operations and decision-making of their union’s officers as do – oh, let’s say – teachers. The NBPA report found no criminal wrongdoing, but it did not consist of a forensic financial audit, nor did it have the same investigative tools available to two other agencies reportedly involved in the matter – namely, the U.S. Attorney’s office and the U.S. Department of Labor. So this may not be the end of it.

The questions raised by the independent report will sound familiar to many of you: nepotism, sweetheart deals, unsubstantiated expenses, questionable investments, excessive accrued vacation pay, and other extravagances:

Over the past ten years, Mr. Hunter has spent more than $100,000 in Union funds to purchase luxury items as gifts for members of the Executive Committee. On some occasions, he gave presents such as alligator belts, gold cuff links and Louis Vuitton bags to members of the Committee, and he established a tradition of giving expensive watches (each costing more than $13,000) to NBPA Presidents when they retired from serving the Union. In June 2010, Mr. Hunter gave Derek Fisher a $22,000 Patek Philippe watch. At that time, Mr. Fisher was finishing the first year of a four-year term as President, and had not expressed plans to retire.

Some of Hunter’s duties were a bit unusual:

Hunter considers attending basketball games part of his work for the NBPA. He claimed:

You have to understand what my role is … it’s incumbent upon me as head of the union to be physically present for players to see me. They get energized off of that. I’ll go out there early, hang out in the locker room with them. I may stay after and go out with a couple of players.

Hunter said that he counted any day in which he worked more than four hours as a work day, including a day in which his sole Union business consisted of attending a basketball game and visiting with players. Hunter further stated that he has the “luxury” of traveling anywhere in the country to attend any game of his choosing. Thus, for example, if Hunter flies to the West Coast for a game, he counts the days on which he travels and attends the game as work days, even if he does no other work on those days (though Hunter claimed that he often worked during flights).

In addition, Hunter believes that attending social events where NBA players congregate qualifies as work. For instance, he considered it official business to attend a reception to celebrate the renewal of Theo Ratliff’s wedding vows in July 2008 and a birthday party for Chris Paul in May 2010.

My favorite part has to do with Hunter’s half-baked schemes for investments of union funds and investment “opportunities” for players:

In addition to evaluating potential investments for the Union, Hunter has served as a conduit for third parties who want to pitch investment ideas to NBA players. By his own admission, Hunter does little to screen these ideas before sending them on to Union members. A review of his email records shows that he has passed along suggestions or requests for investments in, among other things, a video game, real estate, financial products and a Congolese airline.

Those of us without the financial expertise of Hunter might think twice about tacitly endorsing an investment in a Congolese airline, but Hunter’s vision knew no bounds. One of his many ideas involved a joint venture with a Chinese business concern:

“If our intent is to introduce African-American culture into China, it is only appropriate that we establish a chain of soul food restaurants. Having visited China several times I know that Chinese people like many of the same foods consumed by African-Americans. The key difference is one of preparation.”

The auditors were impressed, asking Hunter if there were certain investments that are so risky they are not appropriate for a labor union to pursue. Hunter responded, “I disagree. You can’t limit it.”