Being the top lawyer at a top company is a 24/7 job.
But that hasn’t stopped David Kelly, GC of the Golden State Warriors, and Jason Hillman, GC of the Cleveland Cavaliers, from shining outside the office.
When he’s not criss-crossing the country to watch NBA games, Kelly can be found in the studio. Formerly known as “Capital D,” he had a run as a hip hop artist in Chicago and still produces music on the side. He just released an album under the name “Moskow Denim” a month ago.
Hillman is a pianist and plays baseball every weekend in a 30-and-over wood bat league in Cleveland. “Those are two areas where I can sort of get away from it, turn the phone off and de-stress a little bit, and be in my so-called happy place,” Hillman said.
Game 4 of the NBA Finals is Friday night in Cleveland, and the team’s top lawyers will both be in attendance. Earlier this week, we spoke with Hillman and Kelly about life as an NBA GC: In the first two installments of the interviews, the two explained what they demand of outside law firms and sounded off on legal industry diversity .
In the third and final “game” of the series, published this week in honor of the Finals, Hillman and Kelly discuss which firms they lean on, what sports mean to them personally, and what life looks like outside of the office.
Below is an edited transcript of “Game 3" of the interviews.
Big Law Business: What law firms do you rely on?
Hillman: I like to think we pride ourselves on keeping a decent amount of work in-house. Honigman up in Detroit is sort of our primary corporate law firm. We rely on them a lot at the ownership level, particularly for some expertise on finance.
Ogltetree Deakins is our primary labor and employment firm. They’ve been with us ever since three of the original shareholders at the Cleveland office of Ogletree Deakins were at a firm called Spieth Bell here in Cleveland. Spieth Bell was [previous Cavs’ owner] Mr. [Gordon] Gund’s longtime outside counsel, well in advance of when Dan [Gilbert] bought the team, so we continued that relationship. We use Ulmer & Berne here in Cleveland for a decent amount of work, including a lot of intellectual property work.
Kelly: I lean on my old firm, Katten Muchin Rosenman, for a lot of sports-related matters. Any time I’m dealing with the league, or financing for the new arena, their corporate and finance departments do a lot of work with a lot of different teams. I was in the corporate department previously, so I kind of know their expertise and value them.
Big Law Business: Did you play sports growing up? What do they mean to you personally?
Hillman: I played baseball and basketball primarily, growing up. My basketball career ended in high school when I transferred into the same high school as Chris Weber. Baseball was my first love. I still play it to this day in a 30-and-over wood bat league. I’ve played it every weekend my entire life, and continue to do so as an adult. It’s sort of my happy place, where I can get away and turn everything off for a little bit.
Kelly: I played basketball up into high school. I played golf on the high school team. My mother wouldn’t let me play football in high school, so I played in grade school and junior high, and baseball up until junior high. And then just recreationally I play tennis and other sports as well. As much as basketball is my favorite sport, when I think about my sports memories, they’re all football related.
Big Law Business: Who’s your sports hero? Who’s your legal hero?
Hillman: Cal Ripken, Jr., probably, on the sports side. Like I said, I grew up being a baseball player. I would like to think that if I had the opporutnity to play in the Major Leagues like he did I’d probably want to play every day like he did.
I was always intrigued by the notion that he didn’t think there was anything all that special about the streak . He just thought he was going to work every day. That was always inspirational to me. When he broke the streak it was the night of my dad’s funeral. I found a way to sneak away and watch some of it. That’s how captivated I was by what he’d done in his career, that on that day I felt like I needed to watch it.
On the legal side, Rick Zussman was my mentor and the partner that supervised me when I was a real estate lawyer in Detroit my first four years. I learned my work ethic in no small part due to him.
Kelly: My favorite sports hero is Muhammed Ali. Obviously, it’s at the front of my mind now. I grew up a couple of doors down from his first wife. I went to school with his twin daughters. We were in the same class together. I remember he would come to visit them, and we’d all kind of run down the street, and he’d sign autographs. He always had time for everybody. He always made everybody feel extremely special.
And then there’s what he meant to athletes, and black athletes in particular — the fact that he decided he was going to speak up, irrespective of his position, or irrespective of what he had to lose, and talk about the issues at the time, whether that was popular or not. So that’s huge, just for sports and for the country. I’m Muslim as well, so the fact that he was a Muslim in the sports arena — he is a huge icon for me, personally.
My mentor at Katten was Leslie Minier . She along with Jerry Penner and Adam Klein were basically the three people at Katten who helped mentor me. She started at Katten and went all the way through and made partner, which is very difficult a lot of times, especially for attorneys of color. The fact she was able to do that let me know I could do that.
Big Law Business: Aside from sports and law, what’s your biggest passion?
Hillman: Piano. I’m a long time piano player. Much like baseball for me — those are two areas where I can sort of get away from it, turn the phone off and destress a little bit, and be in my so-called happy place. Piano’s been huge for me from that perspective.
And then my family. I’ve got three daughters: a ten year old and twin seven and a half year olds. When you’re in this business, and you’re at games an increasing number of nights, any time you get to be with them is precious, so we try and take advantage of it as much as we can.
Kelly: Music. I used to have a music group. I still actually work on stuff and put things out from time to time, so that’s my passion. Music and sports are neck and neck. I just unceremoniously put out an album about out a month ago, something I’d been working on for a while.