Sports Law

Rich Paul Wants Nerlens Noel Case Pushed To Private Arbitration

New York Knicks big man Nerlens Noel blasted NBA agent Rich Paul through a Complaint filed in court, which stated that Paul lost interest in Noel as a client, failed to try to secure contracts on Noel’s behalf and that it was Paul’s fault that Noel lost $58 million when Noel passed up an offer from the Dallas Mavericks for $70 million over 4 years. The lawsuit has since been removed from state court to federal court, and Paul has now filed a 22-page motion to dismiss the case altogether.

It should be a fairly simple decision for the judge. Noel and Paul were previously parties to a Standard Player Agent Contract (“SPAC”), which is a standardized document produced by the National Basketball Players Association (“NBPA”) and provided to agents for use in signing up players for representation purposes. The basis of Paul’s motion to dismiss is that the SPAC must control, which includes an agreement to arbitrate disputes by and between player and agent.

The motion does not only make sense under the NBPA Regulations Governing Player Agents but it also is supported with an affidavit from Ron Klempner, who serves as Senior Counsel at the NBPA. The affidavit makes note that it would significantly encumber the NBPA’s ability to fulfill its mandate under federal labor law if courts, which may not be as familiar with the relevant arbitral authority and specific “law of the shop” unique to professional basketball, rendered their own interpretations of the SPAC or NBPA Agent Regulations.

It also emphasizes Section 5 of the NBPA Regulations Governing Player Agents, which states that it is the intention of the NBPA that the arbitration process shall be the exclusive method for resolving any and all disputes that may arise from denying certification to an agent or from the interpretation, application or enforcement of these Regulations and the resulting SPACs between Player Agents and individual Players. This will insure that those disputes — which involve essentially internal matters concerning the relationship between individual Players, the NBPA in its capacity as their exclusive bargaining representative, and Player Agents performing certain delegated representative functions relating particularly to individual Player compensation negotiations — will be handled and resolved expeditiously by the decision-maker established herein, without need to resort to costly and time-consuming formal adjudication.

Finally, there is already a pending NBPA arbitration between Noel and Paul, and Paul argues that Noel’s claims must be arbitrated pursuant to that proceeding. The court’s order on this motion may be the last document the public is able to see regarding this dispute, as it is quite plausible that the judge’s order will push the case to arbitration.

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.