Roughly two dozen players and agents are intent on getting the NBA players union to push back the selection of its next executive director until July, sources said, out of concern about how the field of candidates were winnowed to the current two finalists, litigation attorney Michele Roberts and David White, executive director of the Screen Actors Guild-American Federation of Television and Radio Artists.
Player representatives were recently provided videos of and informational packets about Roberts and White and asked if they were ready to move forward. It has been more than a year since the players dismissed their previous executive director, Billy Hunter, for a variety of questionable business practices uncovered by an audit. The request of the player reps prompted approximately 20 players to send signed letters to union president Chris Paul stating they were not ready to vote. Some, but not all of the players, are team union representatives, a player union source said.
"A lot of different reasons were given," the source said. "They were signed by the players but you could tell they were written by their agents. When we reached out to see what was going on, the players weren't as strong about their feelings as the letters were."
The concern among several agents focuses on the Chicago-based search firm, Reilly Partners, Inc., that was hired last September to lead the selection process. Reilly also has helped both the NFL and NHL player unions select executive directors, and NBA agents are not impressed with the results. Reilly Partners recommended the NFL players union's selection of DeMaurice Smith in 2009 and the NHL players union's hiring of Paul V. Kelly in 2007. Kelly was unanimously fired two years later. Smith remains in office, but several NBA agents privately lambasted how Smith handled the 10-year labor pact he struck for the players with the NFL in 2011.
In light of the indiscretions that prompted Hunter's ouster and how they made the executive board appear to be oblivious to the union's inner workings, the agents are astonished that White, in particular, is a finalist. Several members of SAG-AFTRA took White to court a year ago over the appropriation of more than $100 million in foreign rights. The suit was dismissed in January, but only because union leaders promised to provide the necessary documentation to show where the money went. The plaintiffs could still seek additional legal recourse.
Before taking the SAG-AFTRA post, the Chicago Tribune reported that White worked at Entertainment Strategies Group, which had a convicted felon named Marc Dreier as an investor. ESG was subsequently shut down, the report noted, when Dreier was charged with masterminding a massive fraud scheme.
None of that necessarily makes White unfit for the job, but considering why Hunter was dismissed, the agents would prefer the players union erred on the side of caution. Their question: in a nationwide search, you couldn't find someone who doesn't make us think of the executive director you just dismissed?
"The optics alone are bad," said one source familiar with the selection process. "He doesn't even pass the Google test." As in, a simple Internet search will bring up questions about White's suitability for the position.
Reilly Partners apparently made players union leaders aware of White's past but suggested it shouldn't be a deterrent to his qualifications. "We trust their opinion with that," said the union source. "Isn't that what we hired them for? In going through this process, it's clear that anyone we hire is going to have question marks. Everyone has skeletons."
The players union and Reilly Partners have not explained why they're comfortable with White as a finalist, however, which prompted Jeff Schwartz, president of Excel Sports Management, to write an op-ed piece on ESPN.com last week criticizing the selection process and raising the idea of "starting from scratch." He didn't mention White specifically. Paul responded with a piece of his own the next day, on the same website, defending the process, but he did not provide any details on how White and Roberts wound up as the last two standing from a field of several hundred candidates.
The issue with extending the process until July, the union source said, is that Reilly Partners has told them Roberts and White are being pressured by their current employers to tell them if they're staying or going. The source also said there hasn't been an overt attempt to keep the agents in the dark. "We felt like we involved them," the source said. So why are the agents raising this complaint now? "It's a great question," the source said. "Maybe we need to find out."
Ron Klempner, who has served as interim executive director since Hunter's dismissal, declined to comment.
Ric Bucher covers the NBA for Bleacher Report.