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The unexpected death last week of the National Basketball Players Association’s general counsel raises some questions about how his passing might affect ongoing labor negotiations between the union and the league. Gary Hall, 67, died in his sleep May 16, apparently from natural causes. Hall was a key negotiator in the National Basketball Association’s ongoing negotiations to renew its labor contract with players. The agreement expires June 30. The players union put on a full-court press Tuesday, filing a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board that accuses the league of failing to negotiate in good faith. It was widely reported that the union blames the NBA for engaging in practices intended to provoke the first lockout since the 1998-99 season. In its complaint, the players union claimed the league has made “grossly regressive contract demands,” failing to provide the necessary financial data to justify payment reductions, and “engaging in classic take-it-or-leave-it” bargaining.” The league has denied the claims. The NBA has said that despite soaring ticket sales it is projected to lose $300 million this season. In order to keep costs down, the league is calling for big changes to the collective bargaining agreement-including a hard salary cap for players, a reduction in future salaries, and shorter contracts. Jeffrey Kessler, a partner with Dewey & LeBoeuf who serves as outside counsel to the union, said in an e-mail to CorpCounsel.com: “Gary was a key member of the union’s bargaining team, a trusted advisor to [NBPA Executive Director] Billy Hunter, and a good friend.” To Kessler’s knowledge, the union has yet to name an interim GC to replace Hall. A spokesperson for the NBPA did not respond to calls seeking comment. Kessler said that Hall had an excellent relationship with the league. “He will be missed by all,” said Kessler, “but we will re-dedicate ourselves to getting a fair deal for the players, which is the best tribute we can pay to him.” Both sides are to engage in a formal bargaining session during the NBA finals. In an interview with ESPN sportswriter Chris Sheridan, league deputy commissioner Adam Silver said, “I think the loss of Gary gives us all a sense of perspective…, and I think it will cause us to redouble our efforts in terms of trying to get a deal done by the deadline.” Sheridan wrote that the dynamics of the league’s labor discussions were irrevocably changed by the unexpected death of Hall. “Hall was Hunter’s right-hand man, the person commissioner David Stern and deputy commissioner Adam Silver often used as a vehicle to convey certain thoughts and ideas to Hunter, union president Derek Fisher and their lead attorneys,” wrote Sheridan. The NBA is not the only sports organization for which in-house counsel is making news right now. The GC for the National Football League is taking a leading role in pushing to reach a new gridiron collective bargaining agreement. The Indianapolis Star reports that NFL general counsel Jeff Pash has encouraged owners and players to resolve their own problems and not to rely on a judge to do it for them.

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