Billy Hunter, executive director of the players’ union turned trade organization, said on Tuesday that one of the reasons that players merged their antitrust suits against the NBA in Minnesota was because the district court there normally uses judges to mediate cases.
Hunter mentioned that Judge Patrick Schiltz could assign a magistrate to host a settlement conference by early next week to help resolve the NBA labor dispute. U.S. Magistrate Judge Arthur Boylan was the court-appointed mediator who presided over NFL labor negotiations last summer and Hunter mentioned Boylan as a possibility, though he is not the magistrate assigned to the NBA antitrust suit.
“It makes it easier for the parties to get together when the court is involved,” Hunter told reporters in New York during a turkey giveaway with the National Basketball Players Association.
CBSSports.com reported that both Hunter and NBA Commissioner David Stern have already been in communication recently with attorney Jim Quinn, a partner at the law firm Weil, Gotshal & Manges, who worked for 20 years as lead outside counsel for the players union and helped broker the deal that ended the 1998-99 lockout. Quinn has expressed his willingness to intervene for nearly a month, and is ready to help both sides reach a settlement.
“I’ve always said that I’ll be helpful in any way I can be,” Quinn said. “Everyone would like to see that there is a season, so sure, I’d be helpful.”
Quinn teamed with NBA players attorney Jeffrey Kessler during the NFL lockout, overseeing the union’s decertification and the Tom Brady class-action lawsuit that helped lead to a resolution.
“The most favorable outcome is that they somehow get together quickly and reach an agreement so that they can have a reasonable season,” Quinn said of the NBA labor impasse. “I hesitate to guess what the most likely outcome is.
“I think both sides want a settlement,” he said. “I just don’t know whether they can get one quickly.”
Players have been locked out since July 1 and games have been canceled through Dec. 15. Federal mediator George Cohen tried unsuccessfully on two occasions to help the players and owners come together on an agreement. With the labor stalemate now in the courts, a swift resolution is required in order to save the season. Since the union disbanded last week, the NBA can only write a collective bargaining agreement after a settlement is reached and the union reconstitutes. Players attorney David Boies said the league has to respond to the Minnesota case by Dec. 5.
Hunter told the New York Post that he still believes the NBA can have a shortened season despite the challenges of the current legal fight. “I’ve never given up on the idea of having a season, I don’t think the players have either,” Hunter said. “We can reach a settlement in the court. That’s what we’re hoping happens. We don’t have to go the full litigation where we completely decimate one another. I would tell fans don’t give up, put pressure on the players and owners, particularly the owners, to come to the table. It has to be resolved in context of the lawsuit, but it can be accomplished and it can be accomplished expeditiously.”
Former Wizard DeShawn Stevenson recently told Yahoo! Sports that Hunter is “doing a horrible job” leading the players, and Hunter responded by mentioning that Stevenson hasn’t been involved in negotiations.
“DeShawn is entitled to his opinion,” Hunter said. “It would be much more meaningful if he were more directly involved and would have understood what fully transpired and understood the issues. I think he’d be better informed.
“I respect DeShawn’s right to say and feel what he is saying. I can’t fault that. I don’t have nothing negative about DeShawn. He said it. It’s not justified, but he has every right in the world to say what he thinks.”