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NBA Players Union Legal Bills Halved in Pandemic Season

Oct. 9, 2020, 8:51 PM

The National Basketball Players Association halved its outside legal bills to a little over $1 million during its most recent fiscal year, a financial statement shows.

Dechert and Winston & Strawn collectively received almost $566,000 between July 1, 2019, and June 30 of this year, according to the figures filed Sept. 28 with the Labor Department. Michele Roberts, a former Big Law partner serving as executive director of the New York-based labor union, also took a nearly 50% cut in compensation.

The NBPA’s expenditures on outside law firms represent a similar reduction from the nearly $2 million in total legal bills the union incurred for fiscal 2018-19. Roberts, who since 2014 has headed the union representing NBA players, earned $1.6 million in 2019-20, down from $2.9 million the year prior.

Neither Roberts nor NBPA media staffers responded to requests for comment.

Only a few weeks after Roberts disclosed in early March plans to retire at the end of her term in 2022, the NBA suspended its season due to coronavirus. The league resumed operations in late July with 22 teams quarantined at Walt Disney World in Orlando, and is in the midst of playing out the finals.

Roberts, a former partner at Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld and Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom in Washington, said in a recent interview with The Athletic that the search process for her successor will resume soon.

Pending Negotiations

Dechert and Washington-based litigation partner Christina Guerola Sarchio are advising the NBPA on its search for a new executive director. Sarchio, a former federal prosecutor, serves as co-chair of Dechert’s commercial litigation, class action, and business disputes group. The firm received $286,385 from the NBPA last year.

Winston & Strawn, whose co-executive chairman Jeffrey Kessler has been a longtime legal adviser to NBA players, was paid $279,501 by the NBPA. Kessler and Sarchio declined to discuss their respective firm’s legal fees on behalf of the union, which negotiated a new collective bargaining agreement with the NBA in 2017 that runs through the league’s 2023-24 season.

The NBA’s commissioner is Adam Silver, a former associate at Cravath, Swaine & Moore in New York. The league and its players will return to the negotiating table after the season concludes to determine the post-pandemic economics of the sport.

Other leading legal billers for the NBPA in fiscal 2019-20 include: Davis & Gilbert ($150,761); the Groom Law Group ($106,983); Blitman & King ($36,014); Katz Melinger ($34,585); Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher ($32,193); Hemenway & Barnes ($29,777); Greenwald Doherty ($29,005); Arent Fox ($19,946); Akin Gump ($19,202); Cohen, Weiss and Simon ($11,206); and Shearman & Sterling ($5,290).

The NBPA’s in-house legal staff is made up of senior collective bargaining counsel Ronald Klempner ($557,284); general counsel Clarence Nesbitt Jr. ($548,286); deputy general counsel David Foster ($261,948); and associate general counsel Kirk Berger ($155,283).

Joi Garner earned $502,916 as general counsel of the NBPA’s business development arm, which paid $246,618 to former associate general counsel Allison Gordon.

To contact the reporter on this story: Brian Baxter in New York at

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Chris Opfer at