A pair of Am Law 100 firms have picked up roles in an internal probe requested by the National Basketball Association’s Indianapolis Pacers over recently departed forward Paul George.
The Pacers accused the Los Angeles Lakers of tampering with George, who was traded to the Oklahoma City Thunder in early July to play out the last year of his contract. In a brief statement Sunday, the NBA confirmed the investigation at the Pacers’ request and its retention of Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz to handle the inquiry.
“The Lakers have been cooperative and, at this point, no findings have been made,” the league said. “We have asked both teams to refrain from commenting while the investigation is ongoing.”
Wachtell litigation partner David Anders in New York will conduct the investigation for the league, whose general counsel is Richard “Rick” Buchanan. Anders was called upon by the NBA in late 2014 to work with Morgan, Lewis & Bockius in a domestic violence investigation that led to the unpaid suspension of former Charlotte Hornets forward Jeffery Taylor. Earlier that year, Anders helped the league confirm the authenticity of racist voice mails left by former Los Angeles Clippers owner and Beverly Hills-based lawyer Donald Sterling.
In the aftermath of that inquiry, the NBA appointed former Patterson Belknap Webb & Tyler managing partner Richard Parsons to serve as interim CEO of the Clippers. The league banned Sterling for life and fined him $2.5 million. He sold the Clippers for $2 billion in May 2014 to Steve Ballmer, a former CEO of Microsoft Corp.
A decade ago, Anders assisted current Wachtell of counsel Lawrence Pedowitz on his handling of an internal investigation for the league of Tim Donaghy, a former NBA referee who resigned after being caught up in an FBI probe into gambling and organized crime. The NBA sought to recoup nearly $1.4 million in legal fees from Donaghy. The ultimately unsuccessful restitution request by the league stated it paid $764,237 to Wachtell for its investigation and another $247,265.75 to the firm for counsel in the federal government’s criminal case against Donaghy.
Wachtell’s investigation of the Lakers will examine whether or not former legendary player Earvin “Magic” Johnson Jr.—a Hall of Famer who now serves as the team’s president of basketball operations—made improper statements earlier this year about George while he was under contract with the Pacers.
An April interview of Johnson on ABC’s “Jimmy Kimmel Live,” in which the host asked the Lakers executive about George, a Southern California native, could reportedly become a key focus of Anders’ investigation. Lakers general manager Rob Pelinka, an attorney and former player agent, will also reportedly be deposed by lawyers from Wachtell, along with Johnson and Lakers owner and president Jeanie Buss.
The Lakers have retained Sheppard, Mullin, Richter & Hampton litigation partner Adam Streisand in Los Angeles to represent the team in the league’s inquiry. Streisand, a second cousin of American icon Barbra Streisand, joined Sheppard Mullin two years ago from Loeb & Loeb. Streisand has represented a slew of high-profile clients, such as Anna Nicole Smith, Marlon Brando, Michael Jackson and William Randolph Hearst. in 2014, he helped Ballmer beat back Sterling’s bid to scuttle a sale of the Clippers.
Earlier this year, Streisand was retained by Jeanie Buss as she battled her two brothers in court for control of the historic franchise. That dispute arose after Jeanie Buss removed Jim Buss from his role as vice president of basketball operations and replaced him with Johnson in February.
Jim Buss and his brother, Johnny Buss, then reportedly tried to strip Jeanie Buss of her controlling stake in the team. Robert Sacks of Los Angeles-based Sacks Glazier Franklin & Lodise represented the Buss brothers in the matter, which saw Jeanie Buss emerge victorious in late March.
“The message is clear here: Do not underestimate Jeanie Buss,” Streisand told the Los Angeles Times at the time. “There is not going to be a palace coup here. Not now. Not ever.”
Longtime Lakers owner Gerald “Jerry” Buss died in February 2013. Since then a family trust has owned a majority 66 percent stake in the team, with Jeanie Buss the controlling shareholder. In early 2014, the Lakers promoted former general counsel James Perzik to senior vice president of legal affairs and corporate secretary.
Jeffer Mangels Butler & Mitchell partner and national sports law practice chair Daniel Grigsby was hired by the Lakers to replace Perzik as general counsel. Grigsby declined to comment when contacted Monday about the George probe. While in private practice, Grigsby advised an ownership group that included Ballmer in its bid to bring an NBA team back to Seattle. That effort later fell through, although Ballmer would go on to acquire the Clippers in 2014.
Pacers general counsel Frank Pulice did not return a request for comment about whether the team has retained outside counsel of its own in the George matter. Faegre Baker Daniels has previously handled legal work for the team.