SBJ/October 7 - 13, 2002/Labor Agents

NBA union weighs response to arbitrator's decision

National Basketball Players Association officials are reviewing three plans to attack an arbitrator's decision that the NBA's disbursement of luxury tax and player escrow funds doesn't violate the collective-bargaining agreement.

Arbritrator Charles Renfrew ruled on a complaint by the union late last month, saying that because the union did not restrict how the league could distribute the money in the CBA, the policy could stand.

"We remain convinced the NBA does not have the right to unilaterally create new ways to punish teams that want to improve by spending on players' salaries," said NBPA executive director Billy Hunter in a statement. "The effect of this decision is to continue to undermine player confidence in the NBA's administration of our CBA."

Jeffrey Kessler, outside counsel to the NBPA and a partner at Weil, Gotshal & Manges, said the NBPA filed its complaint on the grounds that the league was both circumventing the CBA and violating the collusion provision of the CBA.

"The collusion part of the case was held up while we proceeded with the circumvention part," Kessler said. "The collusion part is very much alive and pending."

The NBPA has the option of proceeding with the collusion claim before the same or a different arbitrator, appealing Renfrew's decision to a panel of arbitrators or doing both at the same time.

NBA agents have complained bitterly, both publicly and privately, that they are having a tough time getting players signed this year.

The last NBA season was the first year in the six-year NBA collective bargaining agreement in which owners were subject to a tax and players had 10 percent of their salaries placed into escrow. It turned out that owners did not have to pay the tax and players will get back about $77 million of the $153 million from the escrow because total player salaries did not hit trigger levels.

Hunter has previously told SportsBusiness Journal that the union agreed to the escrow and the luxury tax to end the NBA lockout, but did not agree to have teams face an additional penalty of not receiving the tax and escrow funds if payrolls hit certain levels.

An NBA spokesman did not return phone calls, but in a statement, NBA general counsel Rick Buchanan noted, "The NBA bargained for the right in the CBA to decide how the escrow and tax money would be used."

Kessler said the union also believes the policy of withholding the funds from teams with high payrolls is a form of "systematic collusion."

GARCIA SIGNS DEALS: San Francisco 49ers quarterback Jeff Garcia has filmed two commercials for Lincoln Navigator, said his agent, Steve Baker of Baker Sports Management.

The deal runs for a year. The spots are airing in the San Francisco area. Lincoln dealerships are giving away posters of Garcia.

In one commercial, a shot shows Garcia trying to find the perfect grip on a football, then shows him in the Navigator, gripping the vehicle's steering wheel. In the other, Garcia is scribbling furiously on a blackboard, but instead of drawing a play, he is making a diagram to the vehicle in the parking lot of 3Com Park, said Baker who represents 15 NFL players.

In addition to the Navigator deal, Garcia also signed a two-year deal to be a spokesman for Donruss-Playoff trading cards, which feature him on the package of football cards. Baker would not reveal financial details of the deals.

SFX SIGNS GOLFERS: SFX's Golf Division has signed pro golfers Cliff Kresge and Zach Johnson to management agreements.

Kresge has won twice on the Buy.com Tour this year and has guaranteed himself a spot on the PGA Tour in 2003. He is fifth on the Buy.com money list. Johnson was the 2001 NGA Hooters Tour Player of the Year.

SFX golf agent Brad Buffoni represents both players.

Contact Liz Mullen with labor and agent news at lmullen@sportsbusinessjournal.com.

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