Former NBPA leader approves union’s move to employ Kevin Johnson in Executive Director search

Kevin Johnson and former Executive Director of Think Big Sacramento Kunal Merchant watch the Kings take on the Grizzlies. (Photo: Tobin Halsey)

Kevin Johnson skillfully ran point in the effort to keep the Kings in Sacramento.  Now, the point-guard-turned-politician is using his expertise in politics to help a new cause.

The NBPA announced Monday afternoon that they’ve brought the Sacramento mayor on board to assist their search for a new Executive Director.  Johnson has agreed to chair a search committee of outside professionals to help recommend a new leader for the players’ union ahead of the 2014-15 NBA season.

“Mayor Johnson is in a unique position as a former player and someone skilled in the politics of negotiations to lead this effort,” NBPA president Chris Paul said in a prepared statement of the mayor. “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.”

Derek Fisher spent seven years as president of the National Basketball Players Association before leaving office last year.  The veteran guard for the Oklahoma City Thunder thinks the union has everything to gain and nothing to lose by bringing the mayor of Sacramento into the process.

“To have a former player like Kevin in such an influential position (as mayor of Sacramento), it says a lot about him,” Fisher said following Thunder shootaround at Sleep Train Arena on Thursday.  “I think it says a lot about the character of a lot of guys that have come through the league.  And it’s good to see the players’ association in a position to be able to call on a former player (like Johnson who is) the mayor of the capital city of the state of California.

“Any process, I’m sure that Kevin gets called into, he’s gonna be a help,” Fisher added.  “And so, I think for sure it’s a positive thing and we’ll find out as time goes on what role he’ll play and how things will play out.”

Fisher’s tenure as union president is most remembered for how he handled the last NBA Lockout.  He led players in negotiations on the latest collective bargaining agreement reached with league owners in 2011.

The union has been without a Executive Director after voting to remove Billy Hunter from his post last year.  Hunter left the position amidst controversy, including accusations of putting personal agendas ahead of the players’ best interests.  The NBPA had hoped to have a replacement for Hunter before new commissioner Adam Silver took office in February.  However with the process taking longer than anticipated, the union has decided to turn to Johnson.

“It’s a delicate process,” Fisher said of the NBPA’s search for a new Executive Director.  “It’s one that should take however much time is needed to find the right person to fill the role.  From that perspective, in terms of timing, the timing (of bringing Johnson into the mix) is great in terms of making sure you exhaust every possible option and make sure you make the right choice.”

Johnson and his search committee, which has yet to be determined, will work closely with Paul, the NBPA’s executive committee, interim director Ron Klemper and union staff to make sure players and agents are apprised of all pending decisions and plans in regards to the process.  According to the press release sent out by the union, Johnson and the committee plan to gather feedback “with a broad group of stakeholders in order to gain their insights”.

“I am honored to be asked by the NBA Players Association to help lead the process of selecting a new Executive Director,” Johnson said in a statement.  “I have a deep passion for the NBA and the promise it has for everyone connected to it. Everything I’ve been able to achieve in life was a result of embracing the opportunities that I had as an NBA player.”

Selected seventh overall in the 1987 NBA Draft, Johnson played 13 seasons in the league and averaged better than 17.9 points and 9.1 assists per game.  Following his retirement from the NBA, Johnson embarked on a career in politics, which officially began with his election as mayor of Sacramento in 2008.

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About: Jonathan Santiago

Jonathan Santiago serves Cowbell Kingdom as senior editor specializing in writing, podcasting and video production. He also handles the majority of CK’s day-to-day beat coverage of the Kings.