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Has Billy Hunter Neutered The Influence Of Powerful Player Agents?

There are plenty of articles about the NBA lockout, and perhaps none will be better than the one recently written at Grantland by Bill Simmons.  A little over a week ago, though, David Aldridge at wrote an in-depth piece about the lockout, which is also a recommended read.  Instead of summarizing Aldridge’s lengthy write-up, I want to focus on one particular section, which starts with the heading, “When can we expect this to end?”

Aldridge expects the start of the 2011/12 NBA season to be stalled until Christmas, which means that almost three full months of regular season games will be missed, along with all preseason games.  His assessment is based on a group of owners he believes are ready to test the strength of the players’ union, along with a union that has been appropriately prepared for a lengthy work stoppage.  I found the following line to be most interesting:

Players are much more unified this time around than in ’99, in no small part because [Billy] Hunter has neutered the influence of powerful player agents like Arn Tellem, Mark Bartlestein and Bill Duffy, with an executive committee comprised mainly of middle-class players like Roger Mason, Jr. and Keyon Dooling.)

Take a look at the National Basketball Players Association Executive Committee.  Of the nine players on the committee, only one (Chris Paul) is earning a salary that is among the top thirty in the NBA.  There is no disputing that the Committee is comprised of what Aldridge refers to as “middle-class players,” but does that really affect the influence of powerful agents like Tellem, Bartelstein, and Duffy?  Take a look at the nine players on the Executive Committee along with their agents of record.

  • Derek Fisher – Rob Pelinka (Landmark Sports Agency)
  • Keyon Dooling – Rob Pelinka (Landmark Sports Agency)
  • James Jones – Joel Bell
  • Matt Bonner – Kenny Grant (Championship Sports)
  • Maurice Evans – Roger Montgomery
  • Roger Mason – Mark Bartelstein (Priority Sports)
  • Chris Paul – Leon Rose (Creative Artists Agency)
  • Theo Ratliff – Joel Bell
  • Etan Thomas – Arn Tellem (Wasserman Media Group)

Look whose names show up – the aforementioned Tellem and Bartelstein.  While Bill Duffy’s name is noticeably absent, heavy hitters like Leon Rose of CAA and Rob Pelinka of Landmark Sports Agency are present.  Thus, if we are going to base the influence of particular agents on whether they have clients on the Executive Committee, then I do not follow Aldridge’s thinking.  Furthermore, I cannot quite comprehend why Aldridge would think that the makeup of the Executive Committee would somehow affect agents and agencies’ role in negotiations.  The Executive Committee is an influential group, but is certainly not the only voice for the players (especially in a world with Twitter and Facebook).  If Hunter somehow “neutered the influence of powerful player agents” in some other fashion, I am all ears.

I would love for no games to be missed in the 2011/12 NBA season.  More realistic is a hope that the season gets started before January 1, 2012.  But it is naive to think that the “middle-class players” will control negotiations on the players end, especially when a big problem with the current system is the large dollars that mid-level players are receiving.  The heavy hitting agents will be involved, whether or not they represent any players on the Executive Committee.  You’re invited to the party too, Bill Duffy, even if Aldridge has not left a place card at the table for you.

By Darren Heitner

Darren Heitner created Sports Agent Blog as a New Year's Resolution on December 31, 2005. Originally titled, "I Want To Be A Sports Agent," the website was founded with the intention of causing Heitner to learn more about the profession that he wanted to join, meet reputable individuals in the space and force himself to stay on top of the latest news and trends.

Heitner now runs Heitner Legal, P.L.L.C., which is a law firm with many practice areas, including sports law and contract law. Heitner has represented numerous athletes and sports agents as legal counsel. He has also served as an Adjunct Professor at Indiana University Bloomington from 2011-2014, where he created and taught a course titled, Sport Agency Management, which included subjects ranging from NCAA regulations to athlete agent certification and the rules governing the profession. Heitner serves as an Adjunct Professor at the University of Florida Levin College of Law, where he teaches a Sports Law class that includes case law surrounding athlete agents and the NCAA rules.