Winston & Strawn, Dechert Among Gainers of NBA Union Legal Spend

The National Basketball Players Association increased its spending on outside law firms last fiscal year, with longtime counsel Winston & Strawn leading the way.

The more than $1.2 million the association spent in the year ending Sept. 30 compares with roughly $1 million in the prior fiscal period, according to a financial statement the union filed Monday with the Labor Department.

Winston & Strawn was paid nearly $520,000 in legal fees, the statement shows. Other firms and the amounts they received within the last year are New York’s Davis + Gilbert, $252,000; Washington’s Groom Law Group, $197,000; Dechert, $168,000; and Arent Fox, $69,000.

The association made its annual LM-2 filing less than a week ahead of a leadership change. Michele Roberts, who in 2014 became the first woman elected to lead a major U.S. sports union, is stepping down to make way for fellow attorney and forensic accountant Tamika Tremaglio, who was announced in September as the union’s new executive director.

Tremaglio is retiring from her role as a managing principal at professional services firm Deloitte in McLean, Va. She has been an adviser and consultant to the union representing NBA players since 2012.

The New York-based union paid more than $159,000 to Deloitte Tax LLP for professional fees, consultants and speakers, the filing shows. Elevate Government Affairs LLC received about $63,500 for lobbying work.

Other law firms the union paid over the past year include Syracuse, N.Y.-based Blitman & King, $20,500, and New York’s Greenwald Doherty, $15,000.

Dechert advised the association on its search process to replace Roberts, who received more than $1.5 million in total compensation as executive director in the last fiscal year, per the LM-2 filing. Roberts, who took a pay cut due to the coronavirus pandemic, earned $1.6 million in 2020 and $2.9 million in 2019.

The union didn’t respond to a request for comment.

Legal Leader

Roberts, a former partner at Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom and Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld, initially planned to retire in 2020. She postponed her exit when Covid-19 hit the NBA and other major North American sports leagues hard.

The one-time Washington litigator had beaten out two other candidates to succeed former federal prosecutor G. William “Billy” Hunter, who left in 2013 after NBA players voted to fire him amid accusations of nepotism and a dispute over priorities.

The association paid $5.4 million for an internal audit of Hunter’s leadership that saw Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison issue a report recommending that he be replaced as executive director. Hunter and the union exchanged lawsuits before settling their counterclaims against one another in December 2017.

Besides Roberts, other lawyers on the union’s payroll include general counsel Clarence Nesbitt, who earned roughly $558,500 over the last year, and senior collective bargaining counsel Ronald Klempner, who took home more than $468,000.

Deputy general counsel David Foster, who also serves as interim executive director of the Basketball Players Union, a group formed in 2020 to represent players in the NBA’s developmental G League, earned almost $260,300.

Taking Talent

The association parted ways in October with Joi Garner, who was paid $495,500 in 2021. She spent the past three years as general counsel and corporate secretary for Think450, the union’s licensing and business development arm.

The New York Racing Association Inc., advised by legal recruiting firm Major, Lindsey & Africa, announced that Garner would become its general counsel and corporate secretary as of Oct. 15. Garner spent two years as an associate general counsel at the racing association prior to joining the NBA players union in 2018.

The racing association, which operates the three largest horse racing tracks in New York, hired Garner to succeed its retiring legal and compliance chief Joseph Lambert. The association hired Lambert, a former Deloitte global general counsel and ex-top lawyer for alternative legal services provider UnitedLex Corp., in 2014.

The NBA players union’s financial disclosure came a few weeks after the National Basketball Referees Association made its own LM-2 filing showing it paid more than $428,000 to White Plains, N.Y.-based Seham, Seham, Meltz & Petersen for legal contract work during the one-year period between Sept. 1, 2020, and Aug. 31, 2021.

Lee Seham, a name partner at the labor and employment-focused firm, serves as outside general counsel to the association, which represents the interests of referees in the NBA and Women’s National Basketball Association.

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