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Volume 20 No. 46

Labor and Agents

Liz Mullen
Last fall, NBA agent Jeffrey Wechsler got a call from an old friend.

“He called and said, ‘I have a friend who has a son who is going to be a very good ballplayer,” Wechsler said recently, recounting the story. “He didn’t tell me who this person was.”

The friend told Wechsler that his friend was coming in a few weeks to the Miami area, where Wechsler is based, and asked if Wechsler would meet with him. “I said, ‘You have to tell me who it is so I can be prepared,’” Wechsler related.

It was Drederick Irving, father of Duke freshman point guard Kyrie Irving.

Kyrie Irving, a potential No. 1 pick, chose Jeffrey Wechsler’s 24/7 Sports Management.
Wechsler’s company ultimately signed Irving, who may be the No. 1 pick in this year’s NBA draft. Irving is the projected No. 1 pick by and No. 2 by, which projects Arizona forward Derrick Williams No. 1.

Wechsler’s friend, whom he declined to name, played basketball with the elder Irving at Boston University years ago.
When Drederick Irving came to Wechsler’s house in Miami, he asked him if he could have something to drink. Wechsler refused. “I said, ‘I can’t give you a drink. If I give you a drink, your son will lose his eligibility.”

They talked. Drederick Irving told Wechsler not to call him. “He said, ‘Everyone is calling me, and you will be better off not calling me.’”

Wechsler didn’t call.

After the college basketball season was over, Wechsler was one of four or five firms the Irvings interviewed. His pitch was not about the great contracts he’s done but about something entirely different.

Wechsler invited the chairman of a publicly traded company to talk to Irving about how to save money. Not how to spend it or invest it, but how to save it. Wechsler declined to name the business executive.

Then, he said, he invited in Anthony Shriver, son of Sargent Shriver and Eunice Kennedy Shriver and founder of Best Buddies International, who talked to the Irvings about giving back. New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady is a spokesman for Best Buddies in football, and Shriver told Kyrie he wanted him also to be a spokesman for the charity, which benefits people with intellectual disabilities.

“I wanted to put them in front of people who could impact Kyrie’s life,” Wechsler said.

Kyrie Irving selected Wechsler.

The signing was a bit of a surprise in NBA circles, as Wechsler is not a big-name NBA player agent and his name may not be well-known outside the athlete rep business. Wechsler, however, has been representing players since the late 1990s and formerly worked for the biggest NBA agent of all time, David Falk, at his old company, FAME, and then at SFX Sports.

Wechsler left SFX several years ago and started his own firm, 24/7 Sports Management. Among the agency’s clients are Orlando forward Quentin Richardson and Charlotte forward D.J. White.

Wechsler said he doesn’t recruit, employ runners or get involved in AAU basketball programs, noting that the business of signing top basketball players has turned into a “terrible, terrible environment.” But, he added, “If I can get my foot in the door in a clean situation, I am going to get a guy.”

CAA SIGNS NBA PROSPECTS: CAA Sports has signed projected NBA draft lottery picks Jonas Valanciunas, a center from Lithuania, and University of Texas forward Tristan Thompson. CAA also signed University of Tennessee forward Tobias Harris, Texas guard Cory Joseph and Oakland University center Keith Benson. Valanciunas is projected as the No. 8 pick by, with Thompson No. 13, Harris No. 18, Joseph No. 42 and Benson No. 45.

Liz Mullen can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @SBJLizMullen.

The unfair labor practices charge filed last month by the National Basketball Players Association against the NBA was an unexpected turn of sorts in the two sides’ ongoing dispute regarding a new collective-bargaining agreement for the league.

Sports industry experts for months have been expecting NBA players to follow the strategy of NFL players in that league’s labor dispute this year — namely, that the NBPA would decertify as a union and file an antitrust lawsuit against the NBA, just as the NFLPA decertified and filed an antitrust lawsuit against the NFL.

What was not widely expected was that the NBPA would file the unfair labor practices charge with the National Labor Relations Board, as it did on May 24. The union alleged, among other things, that the league was dealing directly with players and bypassing the union as well as failing and refusing to provide relevant financial information requested by the union to understand its financial demands. In a statement, it urged the board to seek an injunction against the league’s threat to lock out players.

The NBA said the allegations have no merit.

The league’s CBA expires June 30. The league and union held collective-bargaining sessions last week, and both players and owners said they were hopeful a lockout could be averted after emerging from at least one of those sessions, according to reports.

Sources close to the players said the NBPA could still decertify and file an antitrust case against the league, regardless of any decision by the NLRB, but legal and labor experts had differing opinions on what the unfair labor practices filing might mean for any possible, future decertification of the basketball players union.

The reason NFL players decertified their union was they were not able to file an antitrust case against the league while remaining a union because of an antitrust exemption attached to a labor organization under law.

The NBPA’s unfair labor practices charge “shows to me that they are putting all their eggs in the labor law barrel, because this is likely to harm any antitrust proceeding that they institute because they are acting like a union,” said Bill Gould, a Stanford Law School professor and former chairman of the NLRB. Gould noted that the NFL players did not file an unfair labor practices charge against the NFL. In fact, the league filed a charge against the players (see related story).

“I think if they did file for a decertification, there would be an argument made that they are trying to get two bites at the apple: the antitrust bite and the labor bite,” Gould said.

Gabe Feldman, director of the sports law program at Tulane University, said he would not be surprised if NBA owners argue the players are trying to use labor laws and antitrust laws at the same time. The players, Feldman said, could respond that labor laws applied only while the collective-bargaining relationship existed.

“That filing with the NLRB shows that they are going to exercise every weapon,” Feldman said. “Decertification is not their only strategy.”

NFL players decertified the NFLPA hours before the CBA expired because if they had waited until after it expired, they would have had to wait another six months to file a lawsuit against the NFL, under the old CBA. The NBA players have no such restrictions on whether or not they can decertify.

The regional office of the National Labor Relations Board that has been investigating the NFL’s unfair labor practices charge against the NFL Players Association has sent the matter to the board’s national Division of Advice for review, a spokeswoman for the NLRB confirmed last week.

“As part of the investigation, there is a process. … The regional office does the primary investigation, and there is a review from the Division of Advice,” said Nancy Cleeland, director of public affairs for the NLRB. “We are still in the process of this investigation and no decision has been made.”

The Division of Advice is a section of the NLRB in Washington, D.C., charged with determining “difficult or unsettled issues of law,” said Michael Paull, an attorney with Klein Dub & Holleb who has represented employers in NLRB charges. He said that it could take “weeks or months” for the Division of Advice to issue a decision.

Bill Gould, a Stanford Law School professor and former chairman of the NLRB, said the Division of Advice is called that because its job is to provide advice to the NLRB general counsel, who decides whether to dismiss a case or bring a complaint.

The NFL declined to comment for this story. An NFLPA source confirmed that the charge had been sent from the regional office to the Division of Advice but had no further comment.

The NFL filed its charge with the New York office of the NLRB on Feb. 14, alleging that the NFLPA was not bargaining in good faith but instead was pursuing a strategy to decertify the union and file an antitrust lawsuit. At the time the charge was filed, the NFLPA was still operating as a union. NFLPA officials said the charge was without merit.

The NFLPA decertified as a union and filed an antitrust case against the league on March 11. The NFL locked out players on March 12.

In NLRB cases, an investigator typically is assigned to a case and makes a determination on whether the stated charges have merit. It is unclear if the regional office has made such a determination regarding the NFL’s charge. Labor law experts said the fact it has been sent to the Division of Advice is not indicative of a finding either way.

The 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals was scheduled last Friday to hear arguments on the NFL’s appeal of a federal judge’s decision to enjoin the lockout. Gould said whether the ultimate NLRB decision has an impact on the NFL labor impasse may depend on what decision the 8th Circuit court makes as well as the court’s reasoning in reaching its decision.