The Other Lawsuit the NBA Faces

The NBA’s lawyers have to be very happy — despite all the stress that comes with litigation. Several players filed the antitrust lawsuit that could help finally resolve the lockout and that complaint will slowly work its way through the legal system and process.

Another lawsuit though was also filed that is only tangentially connected to the players’ antitrust suit.

Former player Cuttino Mobley is suing the Knicks for sending him to a doctor that they knew would not allow him to play. By doing so, the Knicks saved millions of dollars in luxury tax payments and cleared room for other players at Mobley’s expense. Mobley, who earned more than $9 million per year in two years getting paid by the Knicks according to Basketball-Reference, claims that the refusal to let him play forced him to an early retirement.

The Knicks, predictably, vehemently deny the allegations and fully expected Mobley to be the team’s starter when they acquired him. The New York Post reports that then-Knicks President Donnie Walsh was “devastated” that Mobley would be unable to play.

Mobley played his entire career with a medical condition known as hypertrophic cardiomyopathy. Team doctors for the Rockets diagnosed the problem when they drafted Mobley in 1999. This is the disease that claimed the life of Reggie Lewis, Jason Collier and Kevin Duckworth. It is a very difficult disease to detect and you can play with it and haven o problems or have serious problems.

It was a risk Mobley was willing to take and so were his teams — the Rockets, Magic, Kings and Clippers — until the Knicks said no.

 

There is going to be a lot of information to come out as this case moves forward. The crux of Mobley’s claim is that the Knicks knew about Mobley’s condition when they agreed to acquire him and sent him to a doctor that would not allow him to play so the Knicks could free themselves up from luxury tax payments and even from a good chunk of Mobley’s contract through insurance.

 

This is not an issue about Mobley not getting paid (I don’t believe). This is about the future earnings the Knicks’ denial kept Mobley from earning.

It does not appear Mobley is suggesting there was some conspiracy from the league to prevent him from playing. But it stands to reason that other teams would trust another team’s doctors with a health issue this serious. So that if the Knicks denied Mobley’s ability to play, it more or less keeps him from playing everywhere else in the league because of fears of this serious condition.

And that gets to the big lawsuit the league as a whole is facing — the antitrust suit. Mobley’s complaint is indicative of the antitrust exemption the league had so long as they negotiated in good faith with the union. The league is a trust because it can set the salaries and limit movement of its workers. And those workers have no where else they can go to ply their trade and have no choice but to follow those rules.

Mobley would not be able to make an antitrust claim like the players are. The NBPA and the collective bargaining agreement protected him from arbitrary action that would violate the antitrust exemption. Now that protection is gone.

This is the point of the players’ lawsuit now. They are claiming that the league has unfairly locked them out for pretty much doing what the Knicks allegedly did to Mobley — preventing them from playing.

Mobley’s case is very different. He is alleging a violation only from a single team. But the principle is the same.

The league can act pretty capriciously sometimes — just ask Rashad McCants, who alleged he was blackballed from the league for apparently not hustling or playing hard. 

Philip Rossman-Reich

About Philip Rossman-Reich

Philip Rossman-Reich is the managing editor for Crossover Chronicles and Orlando Magic Daily. You can follow him on twitter @OMagicDaily

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