The first lawsuit by NBA players against the NBA and its member teams was filed yesterday in the U.S. District Court for the District of Minnesota. It includes Counts for Violation of Section 1 of the Sherman Act, Breach of Contract, Tortious Interference with Contract, and Tortious Interference with Prospective Contractual Relations.
The Class Action Complaint includes the following Plaintiffs: Caron Butler, Ben Gordon, Anthony Tolliver, and Derrick Williams. Butler and Gordon are represented by Raymond Brothers. Anthony Tolliver is represented by Larry Fox. Derrick Williams is represented by Rob Pelinka of Landmark Sports Agency. Williams is like the Von Miller of the NBA players’ Complaint. Von Miller had not yet signed a rookie contract when he joined the Brady v. NFL lawsuit. Similarly, Williams has not yet signed a contract with the Minnesota Timberwolves, who selected Williams #2 overall in the 2011 NBA Draft.
Why only four Plaintiffs and why those specific players? It looks to be a jurisdiction play by the lawyers involved. The NBA is going to try to have the various lawsuits, likely starting with the one filed in Minnesota, removed and litigated in New York. However, Tolliver plays in Minnesota and Williams was drafted by Minnesota. Butler, a free agent, adds a more recognizable name to the class and lives in nearby Wisconsin. Ben Gordon plays for the Detroit Pistons and lives in Michigan, which may be classified as being in the same region as Minnesota.
The entire Complaint is embedded at the bottom of this post. I have taken a couple of screen grabs of particular sections, as well.
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The players have a much better chance of proving that they are denied that opportunity to provide and/or market their services in the “major league market for professional basketball players” if the Court agrees that the relevant market is the United States. There is a big difference between the NFL and NBA in this respect. Without the NFL, NFL players have very few options. They can play in the Canadian Football League, Arena Football League, and United Football League. Each one of those options requires players to take a drastic pay cut. However, NBA players may have viable opportunities overseas where they are not making the same amount of money that they would be in the United States, but it may be comparable in certain situations.