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Action by Priority agent under NBPA review

Action by Priority agent under NBPA review

By Liz Mullen, Staff Writer

Published

Indiana Pacers forward Danny Granger has left Priority Sports & Entertainment after more than seven years of representation, and the National Basketball Players Association is reviewing whether a Priority agent violated its regulations in the wake of a bitter legal battle between two agencies that was resolved earlier this month.

A federal court jury awarded CAA Sports NBA agent Aaron Mintz, formerly of Priority, $85,000 in damages, but not before two days of emotionally charged testimony in which rare details including salaries and private financial figures were spilled in a Los Angeles courtroom.

The Pacers’ Granger fired his Priority Sports agent two days before the trial began.
Photo by: NBAE / GETTY IMAGES
Like most sports agencies in the U.S., Chicago-based Priority is a privately held company, but lawyers, in arguing whether the agency should pay punitive damages, revealed the company’s earnings and net worth in open court.

Priority Sports has a net worth or shareholder value of $10.418 million and its earnings after taxes were $1.6 million in 2010 and $882,000 in 2011, lawyers said. Also revealed in court testimony were the annual salaries of Priority NFL agent and general counsel Rick Smith, Priority NBA agent Brad Ames and Mintz.

Smith testified he earned $850,000 last year. Ames testified he earns $260,000 a year. Mintz testified that he earned a salary of $250,000 at Priority, but is earning a salary of $200,000 a year at CAA Sports. Agents often receive bonuses and/or commissions in addition to their base compensation, and it was not clear from the testimony whether the agents received additional earnings or how their compensation was determined.

Priority and CAA Sports officials declined comment for this story.

Mintz left Priority on March 23 after working there for 11 years and sued them the same day, asking for a court order releasing him from terms in his employment agreement that would have prevented him from working as a basketball agent for two years. Mintz filed a second lawsuit against Priority and its founder and CEO, Mark Bartelstein, on April 7, alleging seven legal claims of action after he learned that Priority employees accessed his personal email account. Priority countersued Mintz and CAA, alleging 12 claims of action, including breach of contract.

U.S. District Judge Stephen Wilson threw out all but two of the claims. Wilson, in a Nov. 1 order, found for Mintz on his claims that Priority invaded his privacy and violated the California Comprehensive Computer Data Access and Fraud Act. During the trial, on Nov. 13 and 14, Ames testified that he accessed Mintz’s personal gmail account after asking the opinion and advice of Smith. Smith testified, “I made a mistake.” Both testified they were concerned about losing the NBA player clients Mintz represented or co-represented at Priority, and Smith testified that Granger and Pacers forward Paul George were two of the agency’s “biggest” NBA clients.

It is not entirely clear just how many NBA clients followed Mintz to CAA Sports, but Granger terminated Bartelstein on Nov. 11, two days before the trial began, according to the NBPA. Granger, a one-time All-Star, had been officially listed by the union as being represented by Mintz and Bartelstein, even after Mintz left.

Mintz also represents George and Wizards guard Jordan Crawford, but 76ers guard Nick Young and Bulls forward Taj Gibson, two players Mintz recruited, remained with Priority, according to statements attorneys made in court last month.

Robert Gadson, the NBPA’s director of security and agent administration, said the union is required to review any court finding against a certified agent. Gadson said that he would request the court testimony and send Ames a letter asking him to explain his actions in the matter.

Mintz’s attorney, Skip Miller, held up a copy of the NFL Players Association agent regulations during his cross-examination of Smith on the witness stand and asked him if he was aware of union rules prohibiting agents from “engaging in unlawful conduct and/or conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit, misrepresentation.”

Smith testified, “If you are referring to the NFLPA regulations, the answer is, ‘Yes.’” Wilson cut off that line of questioning.

NFLPA general counsel Tom DePaso did not return inquiries for this story on whether the union was reviewing the matter.

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