If a position of leadership stays open for months, it's typically seen as a major problem indicative of overarching issues with an organization. For the NBPA, however, it might be a sign of improved practices. In mid-February, the players' union voted out longtime executive director Billy Hunter, who lost favor after several reports of nepotism and questionable investments. The move was seen as the first step towards making the NBPA a better organized, more effective union, trading Hunter's ostensible corruption for more professionalism and new ideas.
Four months later, the union still hasn't selected a new leader. Yet, according to Jerry Stackhouse, the NBPA's top-ranking vice president, that's part of a larger plan. From Hank Kurz Jr. for the Associated Press (via EOB):
The focus is on getting more players involved in union activities, said Jerry Stackhouse, an 18-year NBA veteran and first vice president of the union.
The nine-member executive committee is hoping to get former players to help make the union's importance known to the current membership. The committee is also finding out what current players consider their priorities.
''We want to build a great union, but first we have to have our players,'' Stackhouse said at the University of Virginia, where the NBPA held its 20th Top 100 Camp for high school stars this week. ''Before we go talking about a search firm, we want to know: What do the players want?
''Then we can hire a search firm and say, 'We want someone that can do A, B and C.''' [...]
The idea that Hunter ran the union without many players knowing what was going on also prompted the executive committee to decide the best thing for the players is a more transparent approach.
On the surface, this is a sensible move for the union. Hunter controlled so much over such a long period of time that the NBPA now requires a deep consideration of its aims and practices, both because it's difficult to replace someone who held a ton of power and because Hunter's leadership style proved quite problematic. A hands-on appraisal of everything union members want makes sense, given the circumstances.
In a broader sense, it's also how a union should be run. Although lockouts and power struggles are typically put in terms of the individuals in charge, unions derive their power from the collective. In conception, they exist to serve the needs and desires of the members, to turn their ideas into something more powerful via collective expression. Put bluntly, a union has no reason to exist if the members have no ability to communicate to (or through) leadership. In many ways, this conversation with the players should happen regularly, not just before the union plans to hire its highest-ranking official.
Looking ahead, we can assume that a players' union that listens to its players and informs them of developments on a more regular basis will be more powerful in future collective bargaining situations. In previous years, the NBA has been able to get its way largely because the NBPA has lacked cohesion and proved prone to internal disagreement at a time when they should be at their greatest consensus. If this plan works, ownership could have a stronger negotiating partner the next time the two sides meet. That could result in more difficult negotiations, but over time it's a good thing for the strength of the league and the people it employs.