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Volume 21 No. 2
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A ‘devoted’ legal mind and mentor

Proskauer traditionally is one of the most active law practices in sports. Some of its former attorneys have become among the most powerful figures in sports, notably NBA Commissioner David Stern and NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman, while current Proskauer sports group co-head Howard Ganz and Proskauer chairman and sports group co-head Joe Leccese, as well as many more, have deep influence within the industry.

But if not for the work of George Gallantz, the practice likely would have never become what it is today, or had the historical executive tree. Considered by many as the father of Proskauer’s sports law group, Gallantz died on April 24 at age 100. Those who knew and worked with him consider him an industry pioneer, who in the early 1960s was instrumental in developing the now lucrative sports practice at one of New York’s most prestigious firms.
Photo by: Proskauer

Gallantz grew up in New York and attended City College before earning his law degree from Brooklyn Law School in 1935. He joined Proskauer in 1963 and worked there until his retirement in 1985. While at Proskauer, Gallantz saw the firm grow from representing its single sports client, the NBA, into a division that represents the big four professional sports leagues in a variety of legal concerns.

The mix of Gallantz’s brilliant legal mind along with his adroit mentorship stood out to those who spoke to SportsBusiness Journal last week about the role he played in their careers and on sports law.

The following are their stories.

— Compiled by John Lombardo

David Stern
NBA commissioner

George represented [former NBA Commissioner] Maurice Podoloff when George was [at the law firm] SimpsonThacher & Bartlett, and when he came to Proskauer, that’s how the whole thing began.

In the early 1960s when J. Walter Kennedy became NBA commissioner, there was massive litigation from the Connie Hawkins case and from the battle between the ABA and the NBA over player contracts. George was not only in charge of the NBA but he was an extraordinary litigator with a penchant for writing and had exacting standards for legal scholarship. He was viewed by the young associates as a combination wise man and difficult taskmaster who you did not want to disappoint. If you were part of his team, he would delegate responsibility to you.

At a very young age, a group of us were taking depositions, arguing motions, writing briefs with oversight by George, but he gave us a lot of freedom and responsibility. That doubly motivated us.

He was exacting, but he and his wife went out of their way to make us feel at home on a very personal basis. He was there at the beginning.

Gary Bettman
NHL commissioner

George Gallantz was a truly extraordinary person and lawyer who had an incalculable impact on my life.
He was probably 65 when I first got to know him. I was a young lawyer at Proskauer, and I was very intimidated by him. It wasn’t because he was mean or anything. George just had such a strong presence and his accomplishments were incredible.

He was very particular and he had high standards, which brought out the best in everyone who worked with him. You had to be very clear in your expression of thought. He was an extraordinary writer. He was a terrific editor for the people at the firm.

When you went with George to court, you wore a dark suit, a white shirt — that was the most important part of court dress — and a subdued, not loud, tie. You always made sure you had change in your pocket, in case we needed to use the pay phone. You had to be prepared. You had to anticipate what documents he wanted, when he wanted them and where he wanted them.

George was perhaps the first lawyer that created “sports law.” He had an influence on the early stages of litigation and collective bargaining. He trained the incoming generation of sports lawyers, whether it was David Stern and me, Bob Batterman or New York City Corporation counsel Michael Cardozo and Howard Ganz. We all cut our teeth with George.
George was a lawyer’s lawyer. Part of who I am, both as a lawyer and as a person, is from the lessons he gave me. I believe it was George who coined the saying, “Never lose the opportunity to keep your mouth shut.”

It was George who told me in late 1980 about the opportunity at the NBA, and who told David about me. That ultimately led to me going to the NBA and eventually the NHL. Even after I left Proskauer, we would have lunch a few times each year and stay in regular contact. I was just one of a number of people that he mentored.

Each year, many of the people that George mentored would get together with him for his birthday. On his 99th birthday, we celebrated it at Proskauer because it was easier for him. We were all there with him. That’s the kind of impact he had on so many of our lives.

Howard Ganz
Partner and co-head of the sports law group at Proskauer

George was a senior partner at the time when I arrived. I went to Columbia law school with David Stern and Michael Cardozo and we all ended up at Proskauer at the same time. George mentored us and we all started out carrying the litigation bag. He was a terrific role model and very incisive, but he took the time to be a teacher and he was very focused on the appropriate use of language, both written and oral. He could make you redo a sentence that would make it infinitely better even though you thought it was already terrific. He was devoted to the firm and helping attorneys like Stern and Ganz to develop whatever potential we had. He brought the NBA as a client to Proskauer in the early 1960s and the NBA was a relatively small client back in those days. George made our reputations in the sports law area. He was really the founding father.

Bob Batterman
Partner at Proskauer and labor counsel to the NHL, MLS and NFL

David Stern and I started together at Proskauer in 1966 right out of law school, and George was a very imposing litigator. I started working with him as a brand new associate. What I really learned was the importance of bringing discipline to your work. Even to the extent that when I was accompanying him to court and wearing a nice suit and tie and a light blue shirt. He said we don’t go to court in anything but a white shirt and I had to rush out and buy one. He was very particular and everything was focused on the case and the client. That is what he taught me. He happened to have brought the NBA in as a little client and that is where it all began. Other sports followed but everything stems from the NBA. It all goes to George in bringing in that first client.

He could be a curmudgeon, but he was very open and very available. He was there for us as young people and he was a great mentor.

Joe Leccese
Chairman and co-head of the sports law group at Proskauer

George interviewed me when I was a law student in 1983 and by the time I came back here he had retired. I remember

asking him what was the secret to his success, and he said the secret was surrounding himself with incredibly bright, young lawyers. At that time, I didn’t know he was referring to David Stern, Howard Ganz and Gary Bettman. The other thing he said to me in the interview was when I asked him what lesson a young lawyer could learn. He took off his glasses and said, “Young man, never miss an opportunity to keep your mouth shut.”

He said that at every turn and that has always stuck with me.

George was very gracious to share the credit of his achievements that the sports group had. From our perspective, he is the grandfather of our sports practice and an incredibly influential figure. He developed some of the most outstanding lawyers we have had and they have passed it on to my generation.

Staff writer Christopher Botta contributed to this report.