Sports Law Blog
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Saturday, February 14, 2004

Celtics to Terminate Baker's Contract; Union to Appeal: The Celtics placed Vin Baker on waivers on Friday, in anticipation of releasing him on Wednesday, a move that would save the team $36 million over the next 2 1/2 seasons. The team has the power due to a clause in Baker's contract that allows them to release him if he misses ten consecutive games due to substance abuse. Baker was suspended indefinitely on Jan. 23 for violating a testing program he agreed to last season when he left the team to check into alcohol rehab.

The NBA Player's Union, not surprisingly, plans to appeal the ruling and the matter most likely will end up before an arbitrator. The union and Baker's agent contend that the player could have returned by the deadline, but was prevented by the team. In addition, the union has stated that Baker's substance-abuse problems "are irrelevant to the question of whether he is physically capable to perform for the Celtics" and that the only factor that matters is his ability to play.

However, it is impossible to see how Baker's substance abuse could be any more relevant to the issue at hand. Baker signed an agreement to play professional basketball, a sport which takes incredible conditioning and strength. For this, the Celtics have already paid him tens of millions of dollars, despite the fact that he missed the last half of the season, as well as the playoffs, last year. His substance abuse also clearly affects his performance on the court, as his production dropped off mightily this season once his substance abuse problems began anew.

Were the Celtics dumb to sign Baker to such a large contract after he had similar problems in the past? Yes. But that does not relieve Baker of the burden of performing under the terms of the contract, something he clearly has not done. This is not the case of management exploiting a worker who has no individual bargaining power, which is what unions and labor laws are designed to protect. This is the case of a worker who has already made enough money to last the rest of his life, despite a performance that would get most people thrown out of the office. Baker deserves pity and support as he tries to fight his addiction, but the Celtics should not have to bankroll him when he cannot do the one thing for which he is paid -- play basketball at the highest level.