The Work

February 25, 2009 4:45 PM

Skadden Sets Marbury Free

Posted by Zach Lowe

With reports circulating everywhere that former Knicks enigma and Coney Island legend Stephon Marbury is on the verge of signing with our beloved Boston Celtics, we thought it would be appropriate to reveal a little bit about the legal machinations involved in his release from the New York Knicks. 

It happened at Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher and Flom, where lawyers for the Knicks, the NBA, Marbury, and the NBA players association gathered Tuesday afternoon. The topic on the agenda was not whether the Knicks and Marbury could agree on a settlement that would get Marbury out of his contract with the Knicks by March 1--the deadline after which Marbury would not be allowed to sign with another team and participate in the NBA playoffs this spring.

Instead, the two sides met to discuss the grievance Marbury filed against the team after they docked him about $400,000 for refusing to play in two games in November. Hal Biagas, longtime counsel to the NBA players association, was there with several other association lawyers representing Marbury. Skadden's Jeffrey Mishkin, former in-house counsel for the NBA and regular adviser to the Knicks, represented the team. The league also sent its own set of attorneys, Biagas says. (A bit of Biagas trivia for hoops and Am Law buffs: According to this nice story, Biagas met his wife in the cafeteria of Weil, Gotshal & Manges while there for a hearing involving Latrell Sprewell, the Golden State Warriors star who was suspended for an entire season after choking his coach.)

Mishkin declined to comment when reached by The Am Law Daily.

The league- and union-approved arbitrator was Calvin Sharpe, a professor at Case Western University School of Law. At issue was the clause in the collective bargaining agreement allowing teams to fine players for skipping games unless they had a "proper and reasonable" excuse, Biagas says. (Marbury, according to this ESPN piece, says he never actually refused to play, only that he told the team he thought they didn't want him. An interesting legal argument.)

But the discussion quickly turned to Marbury's contractual situation. The deal called for the Knicks to pay the former All-Star $20.8 million this season even though they had banished him from the team. Marbury wanted the freedom to play elsewhere, but the Knicks wanted something in return: money. In the end, Marbury reportedly agreed to forfeit about $2 million of his salary in order to win his release from New York.

Biagas and Mishkin would not comment on the specifics of the deal. Biagas says only that all sides are "happy we've reached a resolution in this matter."

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