Sports Law Blog
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Wednesday, October 31, 2007
Sonics Judge: The Worst Judicial Sports Metaphor of All Time?
Federal district judge Ricardo Martinez handed down his first ruling in the dispute between the Seattle Supersonics and the City of Seattle, which I blogged about last week. You can download or view a PDF of the court's ruling here.
The ruling itself resolves a matter hardly central to the underlying dispute in an unsurprising way. After removing the case to federal court, the Sonics owners sought to compel arbitration. Although federal courts generally favor enforcement of arbitration clauses, in this case the lease contract fairly clearly excludes disputes concerning the term of the lease ("Section II" of the lease) from the arbitration clause.
I don't have a problem with the decision itself. But why include this (on page seven)?:
[The Owners'] attempt to side-step Article II and shoot for Article XXVI is as errant as a typical Shaquille O'Neal free throw.
The court here not only mixes metaphors (side-stepping and free-throw shooting), it also misrepresents Shaq's free-throw shooting capabilities. Shaq is a lifetime 53% free-throw shooter. His problems have surfaced -- unfortunately -- primarily during the playoffs. Were the court inspired to use a metaphor based on O'Neal's foul shots, it should have added, "...in the playoffs." The fact is, the majority of Shaq's free throws go in! Does the court mean to suggest that the majority of the owners' arguments are convincing? Clearly not.
So what do metaphors like this add? Can a court be taken seriously when it spends time (although apparently not much time) thinking of ways to insult professional athletes? Why do courts, as one student asked me after reading the opinion, do this sort of thing regularly in sports cases but not in other disputes? (I've never seen a pun on "coke" in a case involving a steel company dispute, for instance).
Then again, maybe the court will choose to characterize the city's underlying effort to enforce the lease via specific performance as a Hack-a-Shaq technique: a somewhat unsportsmanlike and typically unsuccessful approach. Judge Martinez, with all due respect: A swing and a miss.