After 14 months without a permanent leader and with the protracted search under scrutiny from powerful player agents, the National Basketball Players Association announced Monday that Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson will take over the lead in the search for a new executive director.
Johnson, who played in the NBA for 12 years, successfully led a campaign last year to get funding for a new arena and put together an ownership group to fend off a strong bid to move the Kings to Seattle. That success convinced current NBPA president Chris Paul to ask Johnson to take over this thorny issue and the expectation now is a new executive director will be in place by the start of next season.
The NBPA hasn't had a permanent director since Billy Hunter was dismissed in February of 2013 following the revelation of improprieties in the use of union funds. Despite use of a search firm and rounds of interviews no replacement has been found. Respected players union attorney Ron Klempner has been acting director.
Johnson will now take over as the chair of the search committee in a move clearly aimed at gaining credibility with current players and detractors. As part of the announcement, the NBPA said that Johnson will consult with a "a broad group of stakeholders," an implication that Johnson will attempt to include input from agents.
"Mayor Johnson is in a unique position as a former player and someone skilled in the politics of negotiations to lead this effort," Paul said in a statement. "We all witnessed his herculean efforts to save his hometown Sacramento Kings from relocating, and I'm confident he'll bring the same leadership to our search for a new Executive Director."
In February, the union presented two finalists for the job to a lightly-attended session among players at All-Star Weekend in New Orleans. They were David White, the current executive director of the Screen Actors Guild, and Michele Roberts, a lawyer at the powerful New York firm Skadden Arps Slate Meagher & Flom.
No final decision followed and last month prominent agent Jeff Schwartz wrote an op-ed on ESPN.com calling for a more transparent and broader search. Agents have been angry over not being included and the results of the 2011 collective bargaining agreement negotiated by Hunter, which sliced player compensation deeply.
In a response op-ed, Paul said the process had been broad and exhaustive and more than 200 candidates had been identified and researched. Paul, who was elected to his position last summer, is attempting to bridge the gap with agents by selecting the universally-respected Johnson to finalize the selection.
"I believe the NBPA can set the standard for player representation in all professional sports," Johnson said in a statement. "Over the next few weeks I will be meeting with all of the player representatives and moving aggressively to build on the work that's been done."
In a separate move, the NBPA announced Atlanta Hawks forward Kyle Korver has been named to the nine-member executive committee, replacing San Antonio Spurs forward Matt Bonner. Paul, Roger Mason Jr., James Jones, Steve Blake, Stephen Curry, Willie Green, Andre Iguodala and Anthony Tolliver are on the committee.