He's right. And still, one wonders if the players realize the potential damage of Hunter's ethical shortcomings. In a perfect world, labor relations are about forming a partnership. More often they are about winning a war game. One side tries to outflank the other. There are battles of attrition, attempts to divide and conquer, spasms of mental warfare. (During the recent hockey negotiations Fehr supposedly took 20 minutes to pour himself a glass of water—his way of gauging the other side's patience.)
Sports unions are already deeply disadvantaged. "Labor" consists of hundreds of young athletes with short career windows and often little financial sophistication. "Management," meanwhile, consists of a few dozen astronomically wealthy men, whose goals are generally aligned, who don't worry about missing mortgage payments during a strike or a lockout. When management then suspects that the opposing leadership is less than credible? When owners suspect that the union lacks unity? It's not even a fair fight.
This all has real consequences. Before the NHL owners negotiated with Fehr, they waited to see if history would repeat itself and the NHLPA would devolve into infighting. (Only when it didn't and Fehr could demonstrate solidarity did the concessions come.) Be assured that next time the NBA owners negotiate with NBAPA, they'll recall the current state of the union—"a mess," as Kobe Bryant termed it last week—and act accordingly. The NBA is a $4.5 billion annual business. If this history of mistrust and distrust costs the players 1% of their leverage, that's a $450 million swing over the course of a 10-year CBA. Says Robert McCormack, labor law professor at Michigan State College of Law, "Apparent corruption is bad for the players, bad for the union and bad for negotiations."
For Bryant, Stackhouse and the other players rightfully calling for regime change, the first real opportunity will come during this weekend's All-Star events, when the membership will discuss Hunter's status and likely successors. Fehr's name, among others, has already been raised. Certainly, the players would do well to find a labor leader who won't hurt the cause with his own ethical shortcomings and shortcuts, someone who can make compromise while remaining uncompromised.