G. William (Billy) Hunter was appointed Executive Director of the National Basketball Players Association in 1996 with an agenda that included strengthening union solidarity, improving the union’s negotiating position with the owners, and bettering the position of the players. He was guided by the principle that the Union existed to protect the rights of all NBA players.
When Hunter joined, the NBPA was a weak union, marked by internal dissension and the inability to effectively represent the interests of the players. Many players were dissatisfied with the union, declining to take an active part in its activities. The union’s finances were weak and in disarray.
During Hunter’s 17-year tenure, the union surmounted those challenges and prospered:
- He negotiated three collective bargaining agreements, winning praise in the Executive Committee’s 1999 extension of his contract for his “excellent performance.”
- Players’ salaries doubled under his leadership, making NBA players the highest paid team athletes in the world.
- Players’ collective salaries increased by more than $1 billion and group licensing revenues increased to approximately $30 million a year.
- Union finances swung from a debt of about $5 million when he was appointed to assets of about $80 million currently.
To provide for players after they leave the game, Hunter:
- Expanded and strengthened the Union’s Defined Benefit Pension Plan and Group Licensing Program.
- Created a 401(k) Pension Plan, a Supplemental Health Plan (“Super Cobra”), and a Bridge Program designed to provide income to retired NBA players between the ages of 30-50.
- Began the “Sportscaster U. Broadcasting Program” in conjunction with Syracuse University, which gives players the opportunity to develop the skills and experience necessary to prepare for a career in broadcasting. Several alumni of the program are now working in broadcasting.
- Created access to a variety of enrichment programs, such as the NBPA Top 100 Coaching Clinic, NBPA Executive Training Program, NBPA Financial Management Program, and NBPA Continuing Education Program.
- Mandated that players attend financial awareness seminars to educate players on saving and investing to ensure financial security when their playing careers ended.
NBPA Foundation Growth
Under Hunter’s leadership, the NBPA’s foundation strengthened support for a wide range of charities and relief programs, increasing public recognition of NBA players’ philanthropic commitments. The foundation’s assets more than tripled during Hunter’s tenure, and now stand at approximately $26 million.
Beneficiaries of foundation’s support include the Red Cross, UNICEF, and Habitat for Humanity. Donations have also been made to World Trade Center relief, tsunami relief in Bangladesh, earthquake relief in Haiti, and hurricane relief in the U.S. The union has fed over 100,000 children a day and provided medical care for HIV-infected children through its partnerships with Feed the Children and Project Contact Africa.