Starting Lineup: The NBA’s Legal Team

Diehard NBA fans believing they can negotiate better than counsel for the NBA and bring an end to the league’s current lockout of players, may want to re-think their stance.

The legal lineup for the NBA in its current labor dispute with the National Basketball Players Association (“NBPA”) is stacked.

The NBA’s lockout legal team boasts Ivy League graduates, some of the most esteemed sports lawyers in the world, and even the “LeBron James of Law Firm Recruiting.

If those stats aren’t enough to convince you that these men are better suited than most to negotiate for the NBA, then consider this:  the head attorney for the NBA in this labor dispute, Jeffrey Mishkin, “has participated in every major legal decision that has affected the NBA in the past 35 years. . .”  Mishkin has served both as outside counsel for the NBA and has worked internally within the NBA as its Executive Vice President and General Counsel.

Along with Mishkin, the legal team’s starting five is composed of fellow Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom LLP attorney Anthony J. Dreyer.  For those not versed in the world of large law firms, Skadden, Arps is such a force in the world of law firms, that a portion of Malcolm Gladwell’s number one New York Times best-seller, Outliers: The Story of Success, is devoted to Skadden Arps’ named partner Flom’s successful building of his legal practice.

The starting five also features a pair of Howard’s, Howard L. Ganz and Howard Z. Robbins, from another prominent sports law firm:  Proskauer Rose LLP.  The firm’s clients touch nearly every major sport:  MLB, NBA, WNBA, NFL, NFL, MLS, ATP and WTA.  Ganz, a Columbia University School of Law graduate has been named one of the Best Lawyers in America every year since 1987.  Ganz also co-heads the prestigious firm’s Sports Law group and boasts a client list that is nothing short of impressive:  NBC, Major League Baseball and even the mailman.  No, not Karl Malone, but the United Parcel Service.  Ganz’s fit for the starting five on the NBA’s current legal squad is apparent:  he has served as outside counsel to the league for 25 years.  This counseling has allowed him to “. . . advis[e] the NBA in connection with collective bargaining negotiations between the League and the unions representing both players and referees. . . ”  Robbins serves as the Chair of the Sports Law Committee for the New York City Bar and has served as counsel to the NHL and MLS.  His experience representing employers before the National Labor Relations Board will prove relevant to the NBA in its current dispute, as the NBPA has filed a claim against the NBA with the NLRB.

The starting five is rounded out by Executive Vice President and General Counsel for the NBA, Richard Buchanan.  Buchanan is a graduate of Harvard Law School, where he served as an editor of the prestigious Harvard Law ReviewThe most notable Harvard Law Review alumni is arguably the current leader of the free world, President Barack Obama.  Prior to beginning work at the NBA in 1993, Buchanan was a law clerk for Judge Kenneth W. Starr on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit.  Yes, in case you were wondering, this is the same Ken Starr who served as Independent Counsel for the Watergate Investigation into the dealings of former President Bill Clinton.

LeBron James has likely never warmed a bench in his entire career.  But this is a lineup of lawyers, not basketball players.  Thus, the “LeBron James of Law Firm Recruiting” only plays the role of “of counsel.”  Like Buchanan, Paul Clement is a Harvard Law School graduate and former editor of the Harvard Law Review.  Currently a partner of Bancroft PLLC, Clement most recently served as the 43rd Solicitor General of the United States, after being appointed to the post by former President George W. Bush.  In this position, Clement argued 49 cases before the Supreme Court, including arguably some of the most important cases arising during the first decade of the twenty-first century, concerning President Bush’s responses to the September 11th attacks.  Additionally, Clement was retained to assist the NFL in its recent labor dispute.

Thus, the game plan for those looking to tryout for a starting position on the NBA’s legal roster is clear: first secure an Ivy League education, then find a major sports league client and finally, gain relevant experience negotiating for the NBA itself.  And for those willing to warm the bench, the only thing necessary to obtain prior to applying for the position is a presidential appointment.

No sweat.

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