January 31, 2013
By Brian Mahoney, AP Basketball Writer
NEW YORK (AP) -- Executive director Billy Hunter has fired his daughter and daughter-in-law from the NBA players' association, less than two weeks after a review criticized his hiring practices.
In a letter to the union's special committee of players, dated Jan. 23, Hunter informed them that Robyn Hunter was to be let go as of Jan. 25. Megan Inaba will stay on through the All-Star break to help coordinate activities in Houston before leaving her job on Feb. 17.
"Hopefully this decision will alleviate any concerns raised by their employment," Hunter wrote. "These measures are being taken although the report noted that both of them were highly qualified, not overpaid, and were contributing members of the NBPA staff."
Hunter also states in the letter, obtained Tuesday by The Associated Press, that the NBPA will no longer work with Prim Capital, the banking firm that employs Hunter's son, Todd.
The letter was first reported by Bloomberg News.
The review by the firm Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison LLP said Hunter's hiring of family and friends had "damaged the union." Though finding no evidence of illegal use of union funds, the report cited numerous conflicts of interests, noted that his contract was never properly approved and urged players to consider whether they wanted to remove him during their All-Star meeting.
"The appearance of favoritism has damaged the union. Mr. Hunter's pattern of involving friends and family in union business contributed to a deep rift among the NBPA staff," the report said, adding that Hunter's choices "created the appearance that he operated the union in part for the benefit of his family and friends."
Hunter wrote in the letter that an anti-nepotism policy had been adopted, and that other hiring improvements would be implemented.
"In my work for the NBPA, my priority has always been to promote the interests of the players," Hunter wrote. "Through the benefit of hindsight, as with any executive, there are always things that could have been done better. In that spirit, I regret that my long tenure with many successes on behalf of the players has been overshadowed by the appearance of conflicts of interest."
Union spokesman Dan Wasserman said Hunter had no comment on the letter or the dismissals.
Hunter has headed the union since 1996 and makes $3 million a year. The eight-month review gave players plenty of reason to consider his future with the organization, though Hunter has good relationships with many of them and has said he looks forward to continuing.
He is not nearly as popular with agents, who questioned his strategy during the lockout and sought a larger role. The New York Times on Tuesday printed text of a letter to his clients from Arn Tellem, one of the most powerful agents, urging Hunter's removal next month, and others will likely follow.
The review was sought in part by Derek Fisher, the union president who clashed with Hunter during and after the NBA lockout that lasted from July through November 2011. It began last April and included reviews of documents, financial records and NBPA emails, and interviews of witnesses.
Hunter wrote that he disagreed with certain aspects of the report but reiterated that he was pleased it found no evidence of criminal activity.
January 24, 2013
By Tim Booth
AP Sports Writer
Nearly five years after their colors, banners and history were packed away into storage and their franchise relocated, the SuperSonics are one significant step closer to returning to Seattle.
And the Kings are on the edge of leaving Sacramento.
All that appears to stand in the way now is approval by NBA owners.
The Maloof family has agreed to sell the Kings to a Seattle group led by investor Chris Hansen, the league confirmed in a statement Monday morning. The deal is still pending a vote by the NBA Board of Governors.
A person familiar with the decision said that Hansen's group will buy 65 percent of the franchise, which is valued at $525 million, and move the team to Seattle and restore the SuperSonics name. The deal will cost the Hansen group a little more than $340 million. The Maloofs will have no stake in the team.
The person spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because the deal was waiting approval.
The sale figure works off a total valuation of the franchise, which includes relocation fees. Hansen's group also is hoping to buy out other minority investors.
The Maloofs will get a $30 million non-refundable down payment by Feb. 1, according to the deal, the person said. They will still be allowed to receive other offers until the league approves the sale. The Kings sale price of $525 million would surpass the NBA record $450 million the Golden State Warriors sold for in 2010.
The plan by Hansen's group is to have the team play at least the next two seasons in KeyArena before moving into a new facility in downtown Seattle. The deadline for teams to apply for a move for next season is March 1. The office of Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn confirmed Monday it is already working with Hansen on an agreement for using KeyArena, including scheduling and short-term upgrades to the arena.
"While we are not at liberty to discuss the terms of the transaction or our plans for the franchise given the confidential nature of the agreement and NBA regulations regarding public comments during a pending transaction, we would just like to extend our sincerest compliments and gratitude toward the Maloof family," Hansen said in a statement. "Our negotiations with the family were handled with the utmost honor and professionalism and we hope to continue their legacy and be great stewards of this NBA franchise in the coming years and decades."
Hansen was not available for further comment.
Momentum was building toward a sale agreement after word of talks between Hansen and the Maloofs leaked nearly two weeks ago. Sacramento will get its chance to counter with Mayor Kevin Johnson already receiving permission from NBA Commissioner David Stern to present a counteroffer to league owners from buyers who would keep the Kings in Sacramento.
Johnson, a former NBA All-Star point guard, said in a statement that the city remained undeterred.
"Sacramento has proven that it is a strong NBA market with a fan base that year in and year out has demonstrated a commitment to the Kings by selling out 19 of 27 seasons in a top-20 market and owning two of the longest sellout streaks in NBA history," Johnson said.
Yet Johnson will be fighting an uphill challenge trying to pull together an ownership group in a small window of time while Seattle begins preparing for the return of the green and gold.
The SuperSonics became a historic footnote when owner Clay Bennett moved the franchise to Oklahoma City in 2008. It was the conclusion of a contentious two years of lawsuits, broken leases, negotiations and ultimately a settlement that allowed 41 years of pro basketball history in Seattle to be moved away.
While Seattle was excited about Monday's news, there was an air of caution as well, with many fans still stung about the Sonics previous departure not wanting to believe in their return until everything is signed and delivered. Others in Seattle have wanted an expansion franchise rather than taking a team from another city.
"It tore the hearts out of the city when the (team) left the first time and it's just wonderful news to get a team back," said Jerry Brown, who was at KeyArena Monday buying college basketball tickets. "I feel sorry for the people of Sacramento, they have good fans there, but we want our team back."
Ironically enough, it will be Bennett that has a say in whether Seattle returns to the NBA portfolio as the head of the league's relocation committee.
Caught in an awkward spot is the Kings' basketball team itself, some of whom have Seattle ties. Guard Isaiah Thomas grew up in Tacoma, Wash., and before the Kings played in New Orleans on Monday was already feeling the discomfort of being wedged between two cities.
"It's just a little weird (but) at the same time I love Sacramento, I love everything about it. Love the fans, the organization just brought me in with open arms. That's all I really know in this league is Sacramento," Thomas said. "But then I am from that area back home, it's just kind of a different situation. Whatever I say about Seattle, Sacramento fans might be mad at me and whatever I say about Sacramento, Seattle fans might be mad at me. I just love both cities.
"It's out of my control."
The saga of the Kings' future in California's Capitol city has dragged on for nearly three years and now faces its most daunting challenge.
Hansen, a Seattle native and San Francisco-based investor, reached agreement with local governments in Seattle last October on plans to build a $490 million NBA/NHL arena near the city's other stadiums, CenturyLink Field and Safeco Field. No construction will begin until all environmental reviews are completed and a team has been secured. The arena also faces a pair of lawsuits, including one from a dock workers union because the arena is being built close to port and industrial operations.
Hansen's group is expected to pitch in $290 million in private investment toward the arena, along with helping to pay for transportation improvements in the area around the stadiums. The remaining $200 million in public financing would be paid back with rent money and admissions taxes from the arena, and if that money falls short, Hansen would be responsible for making up the rest.
Other investors in the proposed arena include Microsoft Chief Executive Steve Ballmer and two members of the Nordstrom department store family.
"While there is more work ahead, this is a major step toward bringing the Sonics home," McGinn said.
Sacramento fans hope this is not the final chapter in their quest to save the Kings. Johnson has once already saved the Kings from relocation when he made a pitch to the Board of Governors and bought the city time to broker a deal that appeared to solve the team's arena woes. But the Maloofs backed out of that tentative $391 million deal for a new downtown venue with Sacramento last year.
Already, Johnson and other politicians have started wrangling for the Kings again.
California state Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, a Sacramento Democrat, wrote a letter to state officials dated Tuesday — and released to several news outlets — asking them to detail how much money Ballmer's Microsoft company earns on state contracts.
"I cannot stand idly by while a prominent out-of-state company that has significantly profited from business with the State of California actively attempts to acquire and remove one of my State and region's leading private assets," he wrote in the letter to Fred Klass, director of the state Department of General Services.
Johnson said recently he's heard from various parties interested in trying to put together an ownership group that would keep the team in Sacramento, but only with a new arena. He is expected to unveil more about his plans as early as Tuesday.
"We have always appreciated and treasured our ownership of the Kings and have had a great admiration for the fans and our team members. We would also like to thank Chris Hansen for his professionalism during our negotiation. Chris will be a great steward for the franchise," Kings co-owner Gavin Maloof said in a statement on behalf of the family.
By BARRY WILNER
Add Junior Seau’s family to the thousands of people who are suing the NFL over the long-term damage caused by concussions.
Seau’s ex-wife and four children sued the league Wednesday, saying the former linebacker’s suicide was the result of brain disease caused by violent hits he sustained while playing football.
The wrongful death lawsuit, filed in California Superior Court in San Diego, blames the NFL for its “acts or omissions” that hid the dangers of repetitive blows to the head. It says Seau developed chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) from those hits, and accuses the NFL of deliberately ignoring and concealing evidence of the risks associated with traumatic brain injuries.
Seau died at age 43 of a self-inflicted gunshot in May. He was diagnosed with CTE, based on posthumous tests, earlier this month.
An Associated Press review in November found that more than 3,800 players have sued the NFL over head injuries in at least 175 cases as the concussion issue has gained attention in recent years. The total number of plaintiffs is 6,000 when spouses, relatives and other representatives are included.
Scores of the concussion lawsuits have been brought together before U.S. District Judge Anita B. Brody in Philadelphia.
“Our attorneys will review it and respond to the claims appropriately through the court,” the NFL said in a statement Wednesday.
Helmet manufacturer Riddell Inc., also is a defendant, with the Seau family saying Riddell was “negligent in their design, testing, assembly, manufacture, marketing, and engineering of the helmets” used by NFL players. The suit says the helmets were unreasonably dangerous and unsafe.
Riddell issued a statement saying it is, “confident in the integrity of our products and our ability to successfully defend our products against challenges.”
Seau was one of the best linebackers during his 20 seasons in the NFL, retiring in 2009.
“We were saddened to learn that Junior, a loving father and teammate, suffered from CTE,” the family said in a statement released to the AP. “While Junior always expected to have aches and pains from his playing days, none of us ever fathomed that he would suffer a debilitating brain disease that would cause him to leave us too soon.
“We know this lawsuit will not bring back Junior. But it will send a message that the NFL needs to care for its former players, acknowledge its decades of deception on the issue of head injuries and player safety, and make the game safer for future generations.”
Plaintiffs are listed as Gina Seau, Junior’s ex-wife; Junior’s children Tyler, Sydney, Jake and Hunter, and Bette Hoffman, trustee of Seau’s estate.
The lawsuit accuses the league of glorifying the violence in pro football, and creating the impression that delivering big hits “is a badge of courage which does not seriously threaten one’s health.”
It singles out NFL Films and some of its videos for promoting the brutality of the game.
“In 1993’s ‘NFL Rocks,’ Junior Seau offered his opinion on the measure of a punishing hit: ‘If I can feel some dizziness, I know that guy is feeling double (that),’” the suit says.
The NFL consistently has denied allegations similar to those in the lawsuit.
“The NFL, both directly and in partnership with the NIH, Centers for Disease Control and other leading organizations, is committed to supporting a wide range of independent medical and scientific research that will both address CTE and promote the long-term health and safety of athletes at all levels,” the league told the AP after it was revealed Seau had CTE.
The lawsuit claims money was behind the NFL’s actions.
“The NFL knew or suspected that any rule changes that sought to recognize that link (to brain disease) and the health risk to NFL players would impose an economic cost that would significantly and adversely change the profit margins enjoyed by the NFL and its teams,” the Seaus said in the suit.
The National Institutes of Health, based in Bethesda, Md., studied three unidentified brains, one of which was Seau’s, and said the findings on Seau were similar to autopsies of people “with exposure to repetitive head injuries.”
“It was important to us to get to the bottom of this, the truth,” Gina Seau told the AP then. “And now that it has been conclusively determined from every expert that he had obviously had CTE, we just hope it is taken more seriously. You can’t deny it exists, and it is hard to deny there is a link between head trauma and CTE. There’s such strong evidence correlating head trauma and collisions and CTE.”
In the final years of his life, Seau went through wild behavior swings, according to Gina and to 23-year-old son, Tyler. There also were signs of irrationality, forgetfulness, insomnia and depression.
“He emotionally detached himself and would kind of ‘go away’ for a little bit,” Tyler Seau said. “And then the depression and things like that. It started to progressively get worse.”
Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te’o told Katie Couric this week that he briefly lied about his online girlfriend after discovering she didn’t exist, while maintaining that he had no part in creating the hoax.
Pressed by Couric to admit that he was in on the deception, Te’o said he believed that his girlfriend Lennay Kekua had died of cancer and didn’t lie about it until December.
“Katie, put yourself in my situation. I, my whole world told me that she died on Sept. 12. Everybody knew that. This girl, who I committed myself to, died on Sept. 12,” Te’o said in an interview airing today on Couric’s syndicated talk show. A segment of the interview with Te’o and his parents was broadcast Wednesday on “Good Morning America.”
The Heisman Trophy runner-up said he only learned of the hoax when he received a phone call in December from a woman saying she was Kekua.
“Now I get a phone call on Dec. 6, saying that she’s alive and then I’m going be put on national TV two days later. And to ask me about the same question. You know, what would you do?” Te’o said.
An Associated Press review of news coverage found that the Heisman Trophy runner-up talked about his doomed love in a Web interview on Dec. 8 and again in a newspaper interview published Dec. 10.
Te’o’s father defended his son when Couric pointed out that many people don’t believe the Irish star, suspecting he used the situation for personal gain.
“People can speculate about what they think he is. I’ve known him 21 years of his life. And he’s not a liar. He’s a kid,” Brian Te’o said with tears in his eyes.
On Tuesday, the woman whose photo was used as the “face” of the Twitter account of Te’o’s supposed girlfriend says the man allegedly behind the hoax confessed and apologized to her.
Diane O’Meara told NBC’s “Today” show that Ronaiah Tuiasosopo used pictures of her without her knowledge in creating a fake woman called Lennay Kekua.
By David Ginsburg
Fans watching NFL games on television have grown accustomed to the imaginary yellow line that runs across the field in accord with the first-down marker.
That first-down line could one day become part of the in-game experience at all 32 NFL stadiums.
Alan Amron, with financial backing from former NFL player and broadcaster Pat Summerall, has developed the First Down Laser System. Amron said the system projects a first-down line across the field that can be seen in the stadium and on TV.
The league is intrigued, but not completely sold on the idea — not yet anyway.
“The NFL is our prime customer at this point,” Amron said, “and if we can make something that they like, maybe the NCAA and Canadian Football League will follow suit.”
Amron first met with the NFL in 2003 and again in 2009. There may soon be future meetings.
“They give me different opinions and suggestions along the way,” Amron said. “We comply with them and come back. They tell me it took them years and years to implement replay and the overhead cam. The NFL right now has made it very clear to us that they didn’t want to eliminate the chains, but augmenting them wouldn’t be a bad idea.”
League spokesman Greg Aiello said, “We have not been convinced that it would work for us, but we are open to further discussion after the season.”
The laser system would be attached to the first-down markers on both sides and project a contrasting light green line across the field. The system would work in accord with the chain gang, but is designed to provide a more accurate focal point in terms of measurements. When a player hits the turf, by theory, it would become immediately apparent whether he made a first down.
“A misplaced ball on a first-down measurement can mean the difference between winning and losing a game,” Summerall said.
For fans at home, the first-down line is a visual aid that has become as much a part of the telecast as replay and out-of-town highlights. Amron got the idea for the laser after watching a game at home, then going to the stadium and having to do without the line across the field.
“Right away I realized it would be a great thing to be able to project it onto the field,” he said. “I filed patents on it within weeks.”
In recent years, the NFL has attempted to lure fans from home by making larger replay screens, displaying in-house photos of what the replay official is watching and showing clips from games around the league. Could a first-down line be the next addition?
“It will help all teams bring more fans to the stadium to see the game in person,” Summerall said.
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