Federal mediator George Cohen packed up his facilitatin'

October 26 [Wed], 2011, 17:46


Federal mediator George Cohen packed up his facilitatin' and went home after the NBA's labor talks broke down last Thursday in New York. Rev. Jesse Jackson was in the hotel where the two sides met but he never got the chance to broker a deal.
Donald Trump, Dr. Phil and Henry Kissinger haven't been invited into the room during these collective bargaining sessions either, for that matter. But one man who might have changed up the dynamics, while bringing a professional lifetime's worth of experience, was available for the asking: Jim Quinn.

Who dat? Quinn is a longtime -- and respected -- Cheap jerseys adversary of NBA commissioner David Stern dating back to the historic Oscar Robertson antitrust suit in 1976. He represented the NBA players' association for almost 20 years and pulled some all-nighters with Stern and union director Billy Hunter to help end the 1998-99 lockout and salvage a shortened season.
More recently Quinn played a vital role for the NFLPA in its labor dispute with the NFL, overseeing the union's decertification and the Tom Brady class-action lawsuit that gave the players some leverage for further negotiations this summer. He teamed during the football lockout with former partner Jeffrey Kessler, who took over the NBPA work after the last lockout and remains the union's outside counsel.
"I'd be happy to help if I could," said Quinn, who chairs a 500-lawyer global litigation practice for Weil, Gotshal & Manages LLP. "I got involved [13] years ago to try to get the thing resolved, and we did get it done. They seem to be pretty far apart right now."
I first spoke with Quinn weeks ago, after learning of several back-channel attempts to put union leadership in touch with him. That same go-between urged Hunter and union president Derek Fisher to seek input from Robertson and other past NBPA leaders. Robertson in particular was willing to help -- but the NBPA contacted neither him nor Quinn.
The veteran litigator did hear from Stern, Cheap jerseys however, a few months ago. "He called me right after we filed the Brady lawsuit to wish me bad luck," Quinn said, chuckling. "We have a, I think, begrudging respect for each other. David and I go back to the earliest days of the Robertson lawsuit."
It was a different time. Salaries back then were a fraction of what they are now, and the battles between management and labor were more fundamental.
"When we were doing the Robertson case and, really, through the '70s and '80s into the '90s in football, the real focal point was free agency," Quinn said. "Ensuring that there would be a marketplace for players where they could move. That a player who truly was unhappy could go somewhere else.
"That was the focus of those fights, and obviously it led to significant increases in compensation because of competition. But that also was a factor of there being a hell of a lot more money around. Television injected all this money into the system and it had to go somewhere.
"Now this fight is much more about, effectively, the split. How much do the players get, how much should the owners get, what's fair -- and it's very complicated. How do you determine what's 'fair?' So you fight over it and ultimately you have to make a judgment about how long you're going to have to fight. And how much pain each side can endure."
Quinn used a union's decertification in football as a tool and thinks the NBPA ought to keep that as an option as well. He acknowledges that the NFL's fight was purely about divvying up profits, compared to the losses and issues faced by the NBA.
But Quinn added: "Since I've been doing this -- and that's for 40 years -- a lot of these issues are all about rules to protect [the owners] from being idiots. A lot of these guys are in for the ego of it. They want to win. And some are a lot better than others at judging talent. As we could see from the New York Knicks."
Both Stern and Kessler had positive reactions when Quinn's name was mentioned to them. But both also said the owners and the players have the right people in the room to get a deal.
Except that, at the moment, there is no room. Since meetings broke off Thursday, nothing has been scheduled.
Quinn, even weeks ago, had a sense of where this lockout was headed. "I expect that the lockout will stay in place sometime into the season," he had said long before Stern canceled games. "And possibly through the end of the year. Then something will get done. I'd be surprised if it's done earlier. I think it will be somewhat of a replay of last time."