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Sunday, January 21, 2007
NBA Activates its "Security Forces" to Prohibit Players from Frequenting Nightclubs

According to Mitch Lawrence of the New York Daily News, the NBA has "ordered its security forces" to come up with a list of nightclubs that should be made off-limits to players:
In the wake of the Broncos' Darrent Williams' murder in Denver, and other shootings in that city involving pro athletes, the NBA this past week ordered its security forces in all 29 cities to come up with a list of clubs and other night spots that should be made off-limits to players. Once the clubs are identified, with the help of local law enforcement, the league will send a directive to teams mandating that players avoid those spots or be subject to a substantial fine.
Setting aside, for a moment, the dubious merits of this policy, it does not appear to enjoy the benefits of collective bargaining. The closest textual support it may obtain from the NBA-NPA collective bargaining agreement derives from Article VI, Section 11, which delineates "league investigations" into player behavior:
Players are required to cooperate with investigations of alleged player misconduct conducted by the NBA. Failure to so cooperate, in the absence of a reasonable apprehension of criminal prosecution, will subject the player to reasonable fines and/or suspensions imposed by the NBA.
I suppose the NBA could characterize the policy as reflecting a broader and extended league investigation into player behavior, and that such an investigation has been contemplated by the respective parties to the CBA. There are several other sections from Article VI that might also lend the NBA textual support, but none appear sufficiently relevant. And without collectively-bargained support, it, like any non-collectively-bargained working condition, would be subject to antitrust review--and as Joe Rosen and I detail in our Case Western Reserve Law Review article, antitrust law is not especially tolerant of unilaterally-imposed league prohibitions on working conditions, particularly given the existence of the labor exemption, which is premised on the belief that employees are better off negotiating together than individually, particularly when negotiating wages, hours, and working conditions. Also expect a possible objection from NBPA head Billy Hunter, who might, on behalf of the NBPA, file an unfair labor practice charge with the NLRB, particularly if this nightclub prohibition--which, according to Lawrence, will enjoy police assistance--constitutes "spying on employees."

As to the merits of the policy, I suspect it will strike most players, fans, and media as patently paternalistic, even more so than the dress code (and this is a league, after-all, featuring a commissioner who calls NBA players "these kids"). While the NBA understandably has a vested interest in seeing its players represent their teams and league in a law-abiding way--and to do so at all times--going to a night club isn't against the law (although players obviously have to be 21 or older to drink there). It's an activity that some of the players, who are grown men, like to do, just like other adults like to do.

And if the NBA's sole concern is one based on a safety analysis of players at nightclubs, then shouldn't the league also prohibit them from drinking alcohol or eating fattening foods? How about if those same players travel back home to where they grew up--some of them are from some pretty bad neighborhoods, should those neighborhoods be put off-limits, too?

Update: Skip Oliva over at the Voluntary Trade Blog checks in with a thoughtful response to this post:
Even if Stern’s idea has merit, why does it have to be imposed by the league office on all 29 teams? It’s better to leave this type of player conduct issue to the individual clubs. Stern’s centralism actually makes it more difficult for individual clubs–particularly coaches, who have far less power on most teams than star players–to maintain their own discipline. Paternalism reduces the incentive for individuals to take greater responsibility for their own actions.

McCann notes how arbitrary the nightclub prohibition is; will players also be prevented from drinking or returning home to “bad neighborhoods” in the name of protecting the league’s image? Stern will certainly grab as much authority as he can before his media allies turn on him or, more likely, the lawyers get involved.

Update 2: David Wilson over at Sports On My Mind has a substantive analysis of this topic.


Skip Oliva misses an obvious benefit of centralization: it prevents competition among teams along these lines. Assume all teams want the rule, but do not want to enact one because it will put them at a disadvantage vis a vis other teams when courting players. The solution is to jointly agree on a policy and get an external enforcer, i.e., the NBA. It's classic cartel behavior.

Anonymous Anonymous -- 1/22/2007 8:32 AM  

This is not the most important point here, but there has been a rash of this lately: there are 30 NBA teams! Not 29 ever since the Bobcats were born...

Anonymous Henry Abbott -- 1/22/2007 12:14 PM  

Regarding the cartelization point, do we know that the teams--through the board of governors--want this policy, or is it a case of Stern acting unilaterally?

Anonymous Skip Oliva -- 1/22/2007 1:04 PM  

Wouldn't it make more sense for the League (aka Stern) to force teams to hire bodyguards for all their players? By ensuring "protection", wouldn't Stern be able to ignore so called 'problem areas'?

I guess one problem would be who the guards are reporting to - the players, the teams or the league...

Anonymous Anonymous -- 1/22/2007 2:08 PM  

The problem with players hiring their own bodyguards is that the bodygaurds are often friends that just happen to be larger/more intimidating members of the player's entourage who may not be the most qualified people for the position and may end up getting the player into more trouble than he would have gotten into otherwise (see Tank Johnson).

Blogger Tim Epstein -- 1/22/2007 3:20 PM  

The NBA has security forces?!? But seriously, does anyone want to live in a world where our employers can ban us from leisure activities of our choice because it might be 'dangerous'? And no thank you to my mandated bodyguard as well, I'm sort of a private type of guy and I'd rather not be shadowed 24/7...

Anonymous Anonymous -- 1/22/2007 4:00 PM  

What I don't understand is why Stern would be acting on this - it strikes me that if there is enough concern with the nightlife posing a significant danger to players, we might start seeing it in contracts.

They already prevent players from engaging in risky behavior in terms of sports (and potentially Guitar Hero, as we've discussed here before) - wouldn't it be pretty easy for a team to stipulate that their player is prohibited from entering X Y and Z bars?

Instead, Stern is using his power as Commissioner to impose a league-wide list of prohibited bars? Collective bargaining issues aside, I'm not sure how this isn't just some kind of attempt on Stern's part to emphasize the power of the Commissioner's Office and his position. It goes back to the points we've seen before about paternalism and control.

Anonymous Anonymous -- 1/22/2007 5:29 PM  

I believe some of Stern's interests are proper. He wants the NBA to avoid a Tank Johnson episode. However, if you ban a few places the players will always find a new place to go and trouble to get into. They just need harsher penalties for players who violate rules.

Anonymous Anonymous -- 1/23/2007 6:36 PM  

Has anyone thought about the obvious here? Remember, each NBA team visits the other 28 cities (Los Angeles twice) at least once a year--why not have a list of "go/no go" bars and nightclubs that everyone can look at?
Obviuosly you can't prevent problems, even if the place might not be on the list--but shouldn't the NBA be worried about its players, especially after Darrent Williams, Stephen Jackson, Tank Williams, etc.?

--Melvin H.

Anonymous Anonymous -- 1/24/2007 12:29 AM  


The reason there has been a rash of this lately is because while there are 30 NBA teams, there are only 29 NBA cities, like the article says. Los Angeles has two teams (Lakers and Clippers)

Anonymous Anonymous -- 1/24/2007 1:50 AM  

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