Maurice Evans spent countless hours working closely with Derek Fisher and Billy Hunter while negotiating the labor dispute between the players and owners. But nearly four months after the National Basketball Players’ Association reached an agreement on a new collective bargaining agreement, the union appears to be divided into two factions – Hunter, the NBPA executive director, and the eight-member executive committee, including Evans, on one side; and Fisher, the union president, alone on the other.
Fisher and Hunter had a falling out near the end of the settlement and the tension bubbled over into a nasty public spectacle on Friday, when the players’ union released a statement asking Fisher to step down as president. Fisher responded by stating that he won’t resign and claimed that the executive committee has “waged a personal character attack on” him.
“This is petty in my opinion and we’re losing focus on the big picture,” Evans said in a telephone interview. “It’s extremely disappointing to me personally because we, Billy, Derek and myself became extremely close throughout this process and we accomplished so many great things, along with the other executive committee members, on behalf of all of the players. Coming off the heels of the lockout, in the midst of…a great season, with great parity, the CBA is functioning very well. And now it seems that we’re losing credibility behind something that could be avoided.”
Evans is most upset that an internal feud has become public, with Fisher seeking more transparency from the union and requesting an independent auditor to examine Hunter’s business and financial practices. Evans said the executive committee – which includes Evans, Los Angeles Clippers guard Chris Paul, San Antonio Spurs forward Matt Bonner, Boston Celtics guard Keyon Dooling, Roger Mason Jr., Etan Thomas and Theo Ratliff – set up a conference call for Fisher to explain his stance and “Derek was unable to answer those questions and unfortunately.”
The executive committee held another call for Fisher and Hunter to participate, Evans said, but Fisher did not participate. He said the committee members expressed their concerns about possible nepotism and other problems, which Hunter addressed. He also convinced the committee that Fisher’s push had no merit.
“That gave the board extreme confidence, which we already had in Billy, and fully the confidence of the board was lost in Derek’s ability to continue as president,” Evans said. “It’s nothing personal with Derek. Again, it has nothing to do with Derek’s ability as a basketball player or Derek’s character as a man. It’s relative to Derek’s ability at this time as president of the union.”
“I don’t think that anyone is defaming his character. Again, even in the statement issued by the PA, we applauded his leadership throughout and I think it’s just pretty much, it’s time to go our separate ways,” Evans said. “We tried to handle this internally and for whatever reason, things have gone public that he’s trying to conduct business of the union without our authority. I’m not sure why this is turning into Derek versus the PA or Derek versus Billy or Derek versus Mo. This isn’t a game. No one is trying to assassinate his character in any way.”
By a unanimous 8-0 decision, the executive committee issued a vote of no confidence in Fisher, who has two years left on his appointment as NBPA president. Evans and Mason are both behind Paul as a possible replacement for Fisher in the interim. Evans added that Fisher hasn’t been involved in many activities with the union and wasn’t present for meetings during all-star weekend.
“He’s been busy or withdrawn or however he characterizes it. I think as a result, we’re trying to help the union function better and again, to function better then everybody is present and active,” Evans said. “Derek hasn’t made any decisions on his own, regarding the players. The executive committee, jointly, makes every decision and I think the problem is that the executive committee, we’re not on the same page. That’s where the problem is. We’re trying to pull Derek back into the fold, but for some reason, he’s still kind of isolated to make these decisions. So we’re asking him to enlighten us on why he feels this way, he has been unable to satisfy the board with his concerns. That’s been a problem.”
Hunter’s detractors grew during the labor dispute, with several agents upset about the concessions that the union provided the owners in the agreement. And some have speculated that Hunter has more to protect, with about four years left on a contract that will pay him $2.4 million a year.
“I’m open to every perspective,” Evans said. “But we negotiated Billy’s salary. He didn’t negotiate it with us. We made that commitment to Billy and if he’s not upholding his responsibilities, it’s our job, we were elected by general body to make that decision going forward” about going in another direction.
“Billy sent us an email and said, if he wasn’t acting in a way that was becoming to the executive committee and the general body that he would willingly resign,” Evans said. “He answered those questions to our satisfaction. But again, when we asked Derek to do the same thing, Derek declined to come on the phone.”
Evans added that he and the executive committee are more about the 450 members of the union, and not any personal animus between Fisher and Hunter, or any other individual. “It’s not about Derek and myself. It’s not about Derek and Billy and the board. The general message that I can convey to you is that all of us are extremely disappointed about this. Everybody feels so bad,” Evans said. “Everyone on the committee is like, ‘Dude, we don’t want to be caught up in this.’ Mo Evans isn’t trying to be president of the union. it’s not a paid position. we signed on to help people. I signed on to end this labor dispute. To now have internal issues, we’re bringing this on ourselves.”
With Fisher showing resistance to stepping down, Evans wasn’t sure how the situation was going to be resolved.
“I hope that we can finish out the season, this can play out in a vote [this summer], and we can take care of this as quickly as possible. There is no place for this, no reason for this to be taking place,” Evans said. “This is not what we signed on for. Right now, we’re not acting in a way that’s in the best interest of all of the players. We’re causing a huge distraction. Teams are getting ready to compete for a championship and we’re right now, we’re taking the focus off what it is extremely important.”