(Welcome back to Thebeerchaser. If you are seeing this post through an e-mail, please visit the blog by clicking on the title above to see all of the photos and so the narrative is not clipped or shortened.)
In the last two blog posts, I’ve talked about two events which took place at the Schwabe Williamson & Wyatt law firm where I worked for twenty-five years before retiring as COO in 2011.
The HBO movie (“The Last Innocent Man”) filmed, in part, at the firm in 1987 and the three-and one-half-day West Coast hearing for the Latrell Sprewell Arbitration with the NBA and the NBA Players’ Association, were both memorable.
* External Photo Attribution at the end of the Post
I’ve “teased” Beerchaser followers with the events leading up to the arbitration in the first post – the Choking and subsequent punching of Coach PJ Carlesemo at a Golden State Warriors practice on December 1, 1997, Sprewell’s immediate termination by the Warriors and the one-year suspension by the NBA – the longest of any non-drug related in NBA history.
In the second post, I also mentioned how Schwabe came to be approached by the NBA to host that hearing through the connection by former Blazer General Counsel, Mike Fennell, who worked as a Schwabe associate attorney after he graduated from law school. At the end of this post, there’s a deserved tribute to this late colleague, who was a wonderful person and outstanding lawyer.
So let’s take it from the phone call inquiry from Mike, where Schwabe Management determined that we would accept the invitation to serve as the site. We agreed to provide secure conference rooms; witness waiting areas; secretarial resources as required; telephone, fax and computer equipment they could use.
The assistance would also include logistical support such as transportation from lodging and catering plus coffee, refreshments, etc. during the hearing. Of course, the firm would charge both the NBA and the Players’ Association for providing these services.
While we were used to having hearings, legal conferences and other events at the firm, an event of this notoriety and scope was uncharted ground – it presented many questions. These resulted in negotiations based on the demands of the parties – primarily the NBA.
As I stated in a 1998 letter to Ronald Klempner, Associate Counsel for the Players’ Association, following the arbitration (after they objected to the firm’s billing…) we surprisingly did not have any contact with the Player’s Association (hereafter “PA”) until the weekend before commencement of the proceedings.
“Although we tried to get a contact name from the Players’ Association and made requests through the NBA, we had no contact from the Players’ Association until the Friday before the hearing (began the next Monday) when I talked to Bob Lanza (General Counsel).
By that time, of necessity, we had made all the arrangements including limousine service, catering, security, secretarial service, etc.”
And firm personnel did a lot of advance work – but only with the NBA who communicated with us. Our Client Relations Department worked with a caterer to plan continental breakfasts, lunches and snacks – different for each day and potential dinner menus since the hearing was supposed to continue into the evenings – the first day, it lasted eleven hours until 8:30 P.M. (The PA had to go along with the menu selected by their adversary in the proceeding!)
We reserved a secretarial station outside each Association’s conference room, with a Schwabe secretary on-call there (into the evenings) to type memos, etc. send faxes, make calls or dinner reservations, etc.
While after twenty-four years, my recollection has dimmed on some of the specifics, the following account of the interactions and incidents are my best effort to convey what were stimulating and sometimes humorous occurrences – from the negotiations to the hearing itself, to contact with the parties afterwards. I’ve also relied on conversations with Schwabe colleagues.
Our initial contact was with Rick Buchanan, the then young, Assistant General Counsel for the NBA. From the outset through the culmination, Rick was a class act and it does not surprise me that recent internet research revealed that this Harvard Law graduate is now General Counsel & Chief Compliance Officer for the Association.
I didn’t meet Ron Klempner, from the PA, but he is now Senior Counsel, Collective Bargaining for the PA and graduated from the Maurice A. Dean School of Law at Hofstra University.
Both Klempner and Buchanan had remarkably similar legal careers from their excellent law school educations – graduating in 1987 and 1988 respectively – and after notable judicial clerkships; worked at large, prestigious, multi-national law firms before they joined their organizations. Both began this work in 1993 and Klempner and Buchanan are still working for their respective associations.
Klempner clerked for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit and was an associate for five years at Weil, Gotshal & Manges in New York City (now with fifteen offices and 1,132 lawyers with revenues of $1.7 billion and No. 17 on the The American Lawyer’s 2021 Am Law 200 rankings – Law.com.)
Buchanan clerked for U.S. Court of Appeals/D.C. Circuit and then for almost five years was an associate at Covington & Burling LLP in Washington DC. (now with thirteen offices and 1,174 lawyers with revenues of $1.3 billion and 25th on 2021 AM Law 200 Rankings – Law.com)
Becoming an associate at this type of multi-national law firm is extremely competitive and new hires are the top students from the nation’s most prestigious law schools.
Interestingly, Klempner, in 2015, “served as acting executive director of the NBPA between the firing of former seventeen-year executive director Billy Hunter for questionable hiring practices, financial decisions and other alleged misdeeds,” according to an article in Forbes.com. (Hunter is also a lawyer and played wide receiver in the NFL for the Washington Redskins and the Miami Dolphins. His story with the PA could comprise another two posts….)
And after all these years, the parade of lawyers involved continues:
“The election of Michele A. Roberts, a former Partner at law firm Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom LLP & Affiliates, marked the first time a female was elected to the highest position of a major sport’s players association within the United States.”
And if you thought Buchanan and Klempner worked at large law firms, Skadden-Arps with 1,594 lawyers generated revenues of $2.6 billion in their twenty-one offices, earning a ranking of fifth on the 2021 AM Law 200.
(Michele Roberts probably took a cut in salary as the profit per partner at Skadden-Arps was a staggering $4.3 million). One wonders if Skadden still maintains their Moscow office! Both Covington and Weil have Beijing and Shanghai offices, but none in Russia.
I digress, but can’t help noting that Roberts was succeeded as Executive Director for the PA in September, 2021 by Tamika Tremaglio. (Elected for her first four-year term in January, 2022.)
You guessed it – Tremaglio is not only a lawyer, but also an accountant most recently serving as the Managing Principal for Deloitte Financial Services in their DC office and “where she has worked as an advisor and consultant to the NBPA since 2012.” (Sports Illustrated.com)
Security, Security and More Security!
From the outset the NBA was extremely concerned with security. They knew that both the East and West Coast hearings would receive intense media coverage.
On site reporting would not only be by sports media but given the initial reports of “The Choke” (hereafter “TC”) and the personalities involved such as the NBA stars and high-profile NBA Coaches and even famous attorney, Johnnie Cochran; national and even international general print and broadcast media would be there. (We started getting calls from media outlets ten days before the hearing.)
The Chief NBA Security Officer flew out from New York (totally at NBA expense) as were the security personnel during the proceedings. He met with firm management and representatives from the PAC West Center – obviously Building Management was very concerned about disruption for the other tenants in the 33-story building.
To give some perspective on the importance of this position to the NBA, the current Chief, Leon Newsome, commenced his position in 2021, after serving as Deputy Director of the United States Secret Service. He is a 1992 Princeton graduate where he starred in football and in his new position will:
“…..oversee all aspects of security operations for the NBA, WNBA, NBA G League, NBA 2K League and soon-to-launch Basketball Africa League as well as the NBA’s 15 offices worldwide.”
The NBA Security guru, while in Portland, proceeded to visit the multiple high rises in the adjacent blocks (see photo below) where he evidently got permission from building management to go up on the roofs to see what visibility the east side of the Pacwest Center would present to photographers who attempted to film the hearing and witnesses (Really!?).
Since the hearing room had curtains, we rejected the request that we put up construction paper on the east-facing windows on the 17th – 19th floors where there were no curtains.
The NBA security team which traveled to our offices from New York for the hearing, appeared to be former FBI agents and had personalities befitting that background – no smiles during initial days in the Pacwest Center.
They were adamant about protecting the sanctity of the hearing and the privacy of the witnesses and the parties. (The Players’ Association never inquired about security or media issues.)
And we understood the need for these constraints. After all, NBA teammates of Sprewell including Joe Smith, Bimbo Coles and Felton Spencer, would be at the Portland hearing. And this would be the first time since The Choke, that Sprewell and Carlesimo would sit face-to-face. (New York Times 1/29/1998)
Joe Smith (pictured) Bimbo Coles and Felton Spencer – all who played for multiple NBA teams, were Sprewell’s teammates on the Warriors. *13
That said, we were operating at 125-lawyer firm, with at that time, four floors in a high-rise building with clients, attorneys representing opposing parties and vendors/consultants needing access to our people and facilities.
At that time, we had a receptionist on each floor with access to the public. (Now, with five floors, Schwabe has only one reception area at the firm’s Conference Center on the 19th floor, where all external parties initially check in).
The NBA’s initial position was that we needed to lock down all of our floors with access only through clearance by a receptionist on one floor. We calmly responded that this was overkill since the hearing would be located on the 19th floor large hearing room with the parties each having conference and temporary office facilities on the 17th and 18th floors.
The Pacwest Center made additional conference rooms available for the firm’s business, if necessary. We compromised and agreed on a partial lockdown – having all firm personnel come up to the 16th floor and then using internal staircases. We could greet clients on the 16th floor. As a result, no unauthorized persons gained access during the event.
While they initially came across as “hard asses”, the NBA security guys turned out to be reasonable and interacted amicably with firm personnel. We worked cooperatively to develop practical security solutions and they were quite personable once the hearings started.
Their anticipation on the level of media coverage turned out to be well-founded. The hearing took place on Tuesday through mid-day Friday. The intent was to get the current NBA players and coaches in as witnesses early on Tuesday so they could make games later that week.
On Tuesday morning, the PacWest Center lobby was filled with anywhere from 25 to eventually about 50 reporters – hungry to interview the parties and witnesses or anybody who could offer any insight on what was transpiring nineteen floors above.
This was in spite of the announcement that all involved parties agreed to a gag order prior to the hearing:
“Chris Brienza, the league’s director of media relations, has tired to discourage a media stampede. ‘I’ve been telling those guys, this will go from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. every night, the proceedings will be closed and our guys are not going to have much to say,’ said Brienza.
Still, the league is sending one media relations person out for the hearings. ‘Crowd control,’ Brienza said.” (The Sunday Oregonian , 1/25/1998.)
The standard method for an external party to access Schwabe offices would be to come in through the main entrance on 6th Avenue, or if they were driving, to enter the parking garage, to park with the valet on the first level and then take the elevator to the lobby. Once in the lobby, a second set of elevators would access the high-rise office facilities.
This would present a problem, because the media knew by sight, the players and coaches and would descend on them en-masse the minute they appeared. So we cooperatively developed an alternative.
We had arranged town-car limo service from their hotels, and the drivers were instructed to enter the parking garage on Jefferson Street. Rather than stop at the valet, they would proceed to the third level where we had reserved spaces for them.
Although not befitting a prestigious law firm, the visitors to Schwabe would then proceed through the entry to the freight elevator and take that very cumbersome and slow lift to the 17th floor or 18th floors where they would exit and then proceed to their assigned quarters.
It was masterful and none of the correspondents or their photographers discovered this surreptitious entry until it was too late.
That said, on the third morning of the hearing, those that were still there (about half-left when they got frustrated with lack of contact) did have an exciting moment. The Manager of the firms Copy Room and related support functions was a wonderful employee named Wendell King.
Wendell was a tall, good looking, always impeccably dressed and articulate Black man who was an exemplary manager. He decided to make his first trip that week to the Starbucks located in one corner of the Lobby for a latte’.
When the elevator reached the lobby and Wendell walked out with some other people who worked in the building, the press (assuming the stereotypical NBA forward) took one look and congregated around him “battering” him with questions about how the arbitration was going, was he testifying on behalf of Sprewell, etc. It was one of the most humorous moments during the event.
(Unfortunately, Wendell passed away in 2009 and to recognize the standard he set for client service and performance, the firm created the “Wendell King Best of Schwabe Award” which is still given out each quarter to the Schwabe employee who best meets the standard Wendell set.)
Towards the end of the hearing, things got more relaxed although the press was still hanging around. Latrell asked our attractive and personable sixteenth floor receptionist, Jenny, out for dinner (she politely declined….) and some of those involved would go to Starbucks for coffee. Dave Bartz, the future President of the firm, related in a recent e-mail:
“My elevator ride was down the main elevator (from the 17th floor). There was a rush – hubbub, in the lobby. I was in the elevator. The door opened and they jumped in (Sprewell and some suits – I assumed some handlers or lawyers). I moved to the back. Spre and I exchanged a nod and a hello.” (and rode back up in the elevator!)
Dave also related:
“I learned that PJ’s favorite Italian restaurant in Oregon was the West Linn (where Thebeerchaser now lives) spot, Buggatis. (Pretty high praise for a NJ boy.)”
A Tribute to Mike FennellFacebook
In the last blog post, I mentioned how Mike Fennell, General Counsel for the Portland Trailblazers, was responsible for making the connection between our law firm – Schwabe Williamson & Wyatt PC and the NBA – regarding hosting the West Coast portion of the Latrell Sprewell arbitration hearing.
Mike had a great career and rose in the ranks for the Trailblazers from handling a few matters as outside counsel to in-house General Counsel from 1992 to October 2012.
Portland Trailblazer General Counsel – an outstanding lawyer *17
He was an associate attorney with Schwabe after graduation from University of Oregon Law School in 1983. He was regarded as a very good corporate and securities lawyer and just a great colleague. Mike became a key member of the Trailblazer Executive Management Team, providing strategic direction for the company in day to day operations
“Mike loved his ‘work family’ at the Trail Blazers and was extremely grateful for his amazing colleagues.” Upon his departure, Sarah Mensah, who the was the Trailblazer’s COO stated:
“The imprint that Mike leaves as a legal strategist, counselor, negotiator and front office executive is a lasting one,” said Mensah. “It’s hard to see him go, and on behalf of the entire Trail Blazers organization, we extend our deepest gratitude to Mike for his significant contributions, and wish him continued success as he pursues a new phase of his career.”
Mike passed away far too young (61) in December 2018 after being diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s in 2014.
This post got way too long, but we’re not yet done with the Sprewell story. Stay tuned to Thebeerchaser! And in closing, to my amazement, parents can still purchase the item below at Amazon.
Micheal Pellowski is a children’s author who wrote a number of books including Karate Bear and Double Trouble on Vacation in the late ’80’s. The Sprewell offering is still available for $23.93 and is recommended for kids from six to twelve. The book:
“Examines the personal life, college years, and professional career of NBA basketball star, Latrell Sprewell, who now plays for the New York Knicks.”
Children reading the book might want to have adult supervision!
Pellowski is a New Jersey native who graduated from Rutgers and is now 73 years old.
External Photo Attribution
*1 Latrell Sprewell Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/123246144405531/photos/pb.100042176306027.-2207520000../123246191072193/?type=3)
*2 “The Harvard Journal of Sports and Entertainment Law” (https://harvardjsel.com/2016/02/interview-with-nba-general-counsel-rick-buchanan/) 26 February 2016.
*3 The Org.com (https://theorg.com/org/nba/org-chart/rick-buchanan)
*4 Linked-in.com – Ron Klempner (https://www.linkedin.com/in/ron-klempner-36aa247/)
*5 Public Domain – Wikimedia Commons – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Weil,_Gotshal_%26_Manges#/media/File:Weil,_Gotshal_&_Manges_LLP_logo.svg) Author: Weil, Gotshal & Manges LLP
*6 Public Domain – Wikimedia Commons – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Covington_%26_Burling#/media/File:Covington_logo.svg) Author; Covington & Burling.
*7 C-Span – Billy Hunter (https://www.c-span.org/person/?1014546/WilliamBillyHunter)
*8 “Wesleyan University Magazine” (https://magazine.blogs.wesleyan.edu/2019/05/20/a-smooth-crossover-from-the-court-room-to-defending-nba-players-rights/) 20 May 2019.
*9 (Linked in – Tamika Tremaglio (https://www.linkedin.com/in/tamikatremaglio/
*10 Wikimedia Commons (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Johnnie_Cochran#/media/File:Johnnie_cochran_2001_cropped_retouched.jpg) By Mark Winograd (Personal photo) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons. This file is made available under the Creative Commons CC0 1.0 Universal Public Domain Dedication.
*11 The Daily Princetonian – (https://www.dailyprincetonian.com/article/2021/03/leon-newsome-princeton-university-ivy-league-secret-service) 4 March 2021.
*12 Google Earth (https://email@example.com,-122.6794129,35.6438696a,418.81430678d,35y,102.83948888h,0t,0r)
*13 Wikimedia Commons (https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Joe_Smith_Cavs2.jpg) Licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license. Author: Keith Allison 27 April 2008.
*14 Wikimedia Commons (https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Censorship.svg) Licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license. Author: Time3000, Tomchen1989, Mozilla. 28 March 2008.
*15 Daily Journal of Commerce.com (https://djcoregon.com/news/2012/03/16/leadership-in-law-mark-long-and-david-bartz/)
*16 Bugattis Italian Ristorante Facebook Page (https://www.facebook.com/bugattisristorante/photos/a.252041161513560/2261514310566225/)
*17 Oregon Live (https://obits.oregonlive.com/us/obituaries/oregon/name/michael-fennell-obituary?id=15737681)
*18 Amazon Prime (https://www.amazon.com/Latrell-Sprewell-Super-Sports-Star/dp/0766018113/ref=sr_1_16?crid=JXJ6XILZ5W7H&keywords=latrell+) ” “Latrell Sprewell (Super Sports Star)”. Author: Michael J. Pellowski