Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Ron Klempner, NBA Players Association Attorney

I don’t know what job I’ll have in a year or five years, or even 10. But there’s a good chance I’ll be working in sports. And for all I know, there could be a student at BU who will one day be calling me for an interview about my “Dream Job.” That may never happen to me, but it did happen to Ron Klempner.

In 1981, a Pipe Dream column was written about a BU alum who worked his way into a prominent sports journalist career at the Washington Post. The alum was current Monday Night Football broadcaster and TV show host, Tony Kornheiser. The author of the article was Ron Klempner.

Now, 26 years after profiling a figure in the sports field, Klempner is one of them. For the last 14 years, he has served as the Associate General Counsel for the NBA Players Association, which means he represents the labor union for the players and works on the agreements between the union and the National Basketball Association.

“We work with the league on a lot of things, but [Commissioner] David Stern likes to beat up on us a little bit,” Klempner said jokingly.

Klempner, a 1984 BU graduate, always enjoyed writing since his days at Pipe Dream Sports and seriously considered going into a sport journalist field.

“What I realized was that the work was too hard,” said Klempner, who worked for the Press & Sun-Bulletin for a semester. “It was too difficult of a life to write creatively everyday.”

With his love of arguing and taking a stand, a career in law seemed ideal. Klempner, a graduate of Hofstra Law School in 1987, landed at Weil, Gotshal & Manges, one of the top law firms in New York.

“One of the reasons I wanted to work there was because I thought it would be a nice novelty if they could throw me a sports case,” Klempner said.

For any kid who was the last one picked for a kickball game, this next paragraph is for you. When one of the largest NFL cases came through the doors, the law firm needed another mid-level associate to take on the famous Freeman McNeil case that created free agency in the NFL. Klempner was one of two remaining lawyers who weren’t working on the case. He wasn’t chosen, which meant only one thing: he was the lone lawyer to work on a different client, the NBA Players Association.

“I don’t think the decision had anything to do with merit,” said Klempner, who today, is thankful he wasn’t selected. “I’ve always joked around about how you just never know the turns that life takes. Had it gone the other way, my whole life would have changed.”

After working diligently on several cases for the NBPA, including a nasty case in 1991 where there was an accusation that the NBA undervalued their revenue, he impressed the Players Association with his work.

“I developed a relationship with an executive director of the General Counsel,” Klempner said. “When it came time in 1993 to bring someone in house, they knew me and basically gave me the job.”

Now at the NBPA, Klempner has been a part of every major player controversy. Whether it’s been Latrell Sprewell’s choking incident, the Ron Artest brawl in Detroit, the lockout in 1998, or any dress code or player discipline, Klempner is right there in the mix, looking out for the 450 NBA players.

As a member of the NBPA, Klempner often speaks with players, but it usually doesn’t involve any small talk.

“It’s when the players have the problems,” said Klempner, who last year, got a call from Spurs forward, Robert Horry, asking what he should do about the playoff incident with Suns guard, Steve Nash. “I’ve represented dozens of players in individual appeal and grievances, fines, suspensions or contract problems.”

Klempner’s work isn’t all about disciplinary issues, though. Besides running seminars for the rookies educating them on the union, and working closely with agents about salary cap rule information and the collective bargaining agreement, Klempner, like a handful of players, enjoys the benefits that comes out of the Players Association.

Klempner accompanied Kings forward Ron Artest on an African goodwill mission in this year as a way to repair the troubled union member’s image. In 2005, he was also a part of Operation Rebound and Feed the Children Inc. with players like Allan Houston, Shareef Abdur-Rahim and others to help rebuild the southern areas that suffered from Hurricane Katrina.

“This is some of the most satisfying work I’ve done,” Klempner said of the experience.

Klempner takes a lot of pride in representing the union, not just for its charitable causes, but because of the value the union has. Fans may question the amount of money the 12th man makes on a team’s bench, but Klempner argues he deserves every penny.

“They’re the 450 best in the world; they certainly generate the revenue,” said Klempner, who has a say in player contracts. “We’re always looking to balance between the highest paid and lowest paid players when we negotiate the agreement and make sure it’s fair.”

Klempner had no idea what direction his life was heading in when he was at Binghamton, but has been grateful for every opportunity or missed opportunity along the way.

“I had no idea at the time that this is the way that I would end up living my life, nor would I have planned for it,” Klempner said. “I think people put too much pressure on their lives to take a path they think they want to take. It’s worked out for me OK.”


Published Oct. 16, 2007 in Binghamton University's "Pipe Dream" Newspaper.

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