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Volume 20 No. 42
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Key attorneys in the NBA-Sterling dispute

The NBA last week moved closer to a seemingly inevitable legal showdown with Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling over the league’s attempted forced sale of the franchise.

The league on May 19 filed its formal charges against Sterling, its latest step toward ousting the NBA’s longest-tenured owner and forcing the sale of the franchise after racist comments from Sterling were made public in late April. Sterling had until Tuesday of this week to formally respond to the charges. The league also set a June 3 hearing at which owners could vote whether to approve the forced sale.

Sterling as of last week had yet to file any legal motions to stop the league’s effort, and NBA Commissioner Adam Silver is urging that Sterling willingly relinquish the club and avoid litigation. But considering the steps that have been taken so far in this unprecedented case, and allowing for possible additional legal discussions to come, here’s a look at the key attorneys who are engaged in the NBA’s effort to separate Sterling from his franchise.


Rick Buchanan: NBA Executive Vice President and General Counsel, Chief Compliance Officer

Buchanan is the NBA’s chief legal counsel and thus one of the principal architects of the league’s legal strategy for wresting ownership of the Clippers from Sterling.

Buchanan joined the NBA in 1993 as an assistant general counsel and was named to his current position in 2006. A 1988 graduate of Harvard Law School, Buchanan is responsible for all legal affairs of the NBA, with those broad duties ranging from collective-bargaining issues to media, sponsorship and licensing matters. He also is responsible for all legal matters related to the NBA board of governors specifically, putting him front and center in the legal process surrounding the Sterling matter.

Known for his calm, deliberate demeanor, Buchanan came to the NBA with deep legal experience. He previously worked for the Covington & Burling law firm, where he represented the NFL and the NHL. He also clerked for Judge Kenneth Starr on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit.

Dan Spillane: NBA Vice President and Assistant General Counsel

Spillane is a Harvard Law School graduate who joined the NBA in 2007 after working at the New York law firm Debevoise & Plimpton. He was deeply involved in crafting the NBA’s CBA and revenue-sharing plan in 2011 and is involved in all of the league’s major legal and business matters.

Michelle Leftwich: NBA Vice President and Assistant General Counsel

Leftwich joined the NBA in 1996 and, along with Spillane, assists Buchanan in a variety of legal issues for the league. She is a 1993 New York University School of Law graduate and previously worked for the New York law firm formerly known as Paul, Hastings, Janofsky & Walker.


Jeffrey Mishkin: Partner, Skadden, Arps

Mishkin has a firm hold on NBA legal matters given that he joined Skadden in 2000 after having worked as the NBA’s chief legal officer for seven years. Whether working as outside counsel or working in-house for the NBA, Mishkin has been involved in most every major NBA legal issue for the league over the past three decades. Insiders say he knows the league backward and forward.

In this case, pertaining to Sterling, he’s also drawing on his antitrust expertise. His practice centers on sports law and includes antitrust, intellectual property, labor, and a wide range of trial and appellate business litigation, with clients including MLB, the NBA, the NFL, the NHL, the PGA Tour, the NCAA, and various college conferences and professional sports teams.

A 1972 graduate of Cornell Law School, Mishkin previously worked for Proskauer, and it was there that he met former NBA Commissioner David Stern, who was then an associate at the firm. Mishkin spent two decades at Proskauer before joining the NBA as chief legal counsel, replacing Gary Bettman, who left to become NHL commissioner.

David Anders: Partner, Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz

When Silver needed someone last month to investigate the recorded comments that began the entire Sterling affair, he quickly turned to Anders.

Anders joined Wachtell, Litpton in 2006 and has represented top companies in white-collar criminal matters, internal investigations and corporate governance.

Anders was an assistant U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York from September 1998 through December 2005. During that time, he prosecuted white-collar crimes, including securities, commodities and other investment fraud schemes. He is a 1994 graduate of Fordham University School of Law and also worked as a law clerk to Judge Denny Chin of the U.S. District Court in the Southern District of New York.

Joe Leccese: Chairman, Proskauer

In addition to being chairman of Proskauer, Leccese leads the firm’s sports law group and has extensive legal experience representing a variety of leagues and teams across the industry. A graduate of the University of Virginia School of Law, he joined the firm in 1986 and became chairman in 2011.

As it specifically relates to the Sterling case and potential developments there, Leccese has advised bidders and leagues across sports related to team sales both in private deals and in auction sales, the latter of which is most likely to occur here once all legal hurdles are cleared to allow for the sale of the Clippers.

Insiders tout Leccese’s respected stature within the industry. He is seen as one of the NBA’s most trusted outside advisers.


Maxwell Blecher: Founding Partner, Blecher Collins Pepperman & Joye (Los Angeles)

Blecher is a longtime antitrust specialist but he is no stranger to Sterling or to the sports industry. He represented Sterling during the Clippers’ move from San Diego to Los Angeles in the early 1980s. He also was involved in litigation surrounding the Oakland Raiders’ move to Los Angeles: He represented the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum Commission in an antitrust lawsuit against the NFL that allowed the Raiders to move to Los Angeles in 1982. Blecher additionally was hired by late St. Louis Rams owner Georgia Frontiere related to that team’s move from Los Angeles to Missouri in 1995.


Pierce O’Donnell: Attorney, Greenberg Glusker (Los Angeles)

A longtime trial attorney, O’Donnell represents Sterling’s wife, Shelly, as she looks to protect her noncontrolling stake in the Clippers. O’Donnell has issued a statement contending that the NBA has no basis for stripping his client’s interest in the franchise.