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Volume 20 No. 42
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Forty Under 40

Unlike so many of his peers, Dan Spillane did not set out to have a career in sports. There were no internships or summer jobs, nor any connections that led to his current position as vice president and assistant general counsel for the NBA.

Instead, Spillane was cruising along in 2006 on a partnership track with the Manhattan law firm of Debevoise & Plimpton when a headhunter called about a job working as an in-house lawyer for the NBA.

“I was doing litigation and white-collar arbitration work and I was in a push to make partner,” Spillane said. “I applied on a lark, and it materialized into a job. I have always had an interest in entertainment and sports, but it wasn’t something I was actively pursuing. It was a great sounding job and it was worth the risk.”

The law firm’s loss turned into the NBA’s gain, considering Spillane’s key contributions since he joined the league in 2007. He played a particularly valuable role in shaping the league’s new collective-bargaining agreement and revenue-sharing plan. Both required heavy lifting, with Spillane deeply involved in the bargaining sessions while drafting various new CBA models. His work on the revenue-sharing system in particular involved taking part in internal discussions among owners who had differing opinions.

“Ultimately, we were trying to harmonize all the competing interests,” he said.

The result was a 10-year CBA and an overhauled revenue-sharing plan that helps balance overall team profitability among the NBA’s 30 clubs.

“We are happy how things turned out, on both fronts,” he said.

Spillane’s work on revenue sharing continues, making sure the plan is regulated properly, but he’s also turned his attention to league relocation matters, particularly as it relates to the Sacramento Kings’ potential move to Seattle.

“Dan has established himself as one of the top executives in sports,” said NBA Deputy Commissioner Adam Silver. “He has been heavily involved in all of our most important legal and business matters. He is focused, hardworking, and extraordinarily intelligent in working with our owners and senior management on the most recent CBA and revenue-sharing negotiations.”

— John Lombardo

Age: 39
Title: Vice president and assistant general counsel
Education: B.A., economics/political science/legal studies, University of California; J.D., Harvard Law School
Family: Wife, Maggie; daughter, Fiona (5); son, Clark (3)
Career: One year with a federal district judge (Miriam Cedarbaum, Southern District of New York); Debevoise & Plimpton, litigation and white-collar investigations practice, 2000-06; NBA since 2007

First Job: Working the ring-toss at an amusement park (Yes, it’s impossible to win.)
WHAT KEEPS YOU AWAKE AT NIGHT?: Our celebrity neighbor’s intense 3 a.m. sidewalk conversations.

How do you strike a work-life balance? Bring work home when I’m busy so I see the kids before their bedtime.
Best business advice received: Ask stupid questions. If something doesn’t make sense, there’s a reason.
Worst advice received: “Never admit you’re wrong.”
Favorite iPad apps: GoodReader is indispensable. Also Netflix, The New Yorker, Kindle and of course our [NBA] Game Time app.
REACTION TO FORTY UNDER 40 SELECTION: I called my wife, and she said, “You need a new suit.”
Stress release: Tie between spending quality time with the kids and going out with no kids.
Pet peeve: Golf umbrellas on crowded Manhattan sidewalks
Guilty pleasure: Swedish Fish