Klempner looks back on decades-long legal work at the NBPA
Ron Klempner was a young lawyer more than 30 years ago when a decision was made that changed his life.
He worked with a long-standing sports union apart from lawyers Jim Quinn and Jeffrey Kesler to Weil Gotshal, who at the time was outside counsel for the NFL Players Association and the National Association of Basketball Players.
“I came to the NBPA because of an assignment that I didn’t end up getting,” Klempner said. “I put it down to an assignment I didn’t get.”
Quinn and Kessler were about to be tried in Freeman McNeil against the NFL, and needed an associate to work on the case. They brought Klempner and a lawyer Jon Weiss in their offices and asked them what cases and other work they had on their plates.
Ron Klempner was promoted to general counsel for the NBPA earlier this year.PANB
“It was a big trial,” Klempner said. “It basically established free agency in the NFL and they were going to add another top associate to the team.” After speaking, the decision was made that Weiss would be added to the lawsuit.
This left Klempner to spend a lot of time with NBPA work while the other attorneys worked on the McNeil lawsuit in federal court in Minnesota. “I stayed back, which meant that whenever the NBPA had a case or a case, I was the lead attorney handling it.”
There was a lot of work those days, and important business too. Like a case involving the NBPA having a dispute with the NBA over what was then called DGR – designated gross income – a percentage of which constituted the salary cap. The NBA and NBPA now have a different calculation and name for it — basketball-related income (BRI) — largely because of that dispute, which was eventually settled.
During this time, Klempner got to know the executive director of the NBPA, who was then Charles Granthamand the Advocate General, who was then Simon Gourdine.
One day, Grantham offered Klempner a job as a union lawyer. “Charlie basically asked me a question,” Klempner recounted. “He said, ‘I just want to know, are you with the players? “” Klempner was hired as an attorney for the NBPA on November 1, 1993.
Grantham resigned in 1995 and was replaced by Gourdine, who was later fired in 1996. Then the union hired Billy Hunter, who was fired in 2013 after 17 years on the job. After Hunter’s dismissal, Klempner served as interim executive director for approximately 20 months until a search process resulted in Michele Roberts being elected the first woman to lead a major men’s sports union in 2014.
All the while, Klempner stayed, and he himself never applied for the top job. When asked why, he replied, “I don’t really see myself that way — as the face of the organization. I’m a worker, that’s how I was brought up. I don’t have the profile and I honestly think the players deserve someone with a lot more charisma. No, I’m serious. I think they deserve someone with a bigger vision.
Aside from his short stint as interim executive director, Klempner has held mostly deputy general counsel positions. When Roberts was hired, she asked him what he wanted to do in the union.
“With Michele it was a very short conversion, as they often are with her,” Klempner said. “She goes straight to the point. She’s very decisive – which is, by the way, something I’m not, unfortunately. Michele said, “There are 100 people I can get to make sure the trains run on time. There’s only one person I can get that understands this deal with the depth that we need, and that’s you,” Klempner recounted.
“She said, ‘Pick a title, whatever you want, put collective bargaining in it, put a lawyer in it,'” Klempner said. He therefore became Senior Counsel, Collective Bargaining.
Earlier this year, Klempner was promoted to general counsel for the NBPA. New Director General of the APNB Tamika Tremaglio cited his experience, knowledge and personality as reasons for the promotion.
“Ron is truly an invaluable member of our NBPA team here, with an incredible amount of institutional knowledge and experience from his nearly 30-year career with the union,” Tremaglio said. “While he is obviously a phenomenal lawyer and highly skilled in his craft, we are fortunate that he is an even better person and a colleague who enjoys the genuine respect and support of the players and our staff.”
Tremaglio, who took over the union in January, made other significant personnel changes, including:
■ Clarence Nesbitt was appointed legal director and general secretary of Think450, the union’s business unit. He was most recently general counsel for the NBPA, but had worked as general counsel for Think450.
■ Chrysa Chin has been named Head of Player Engagement, a new role in which she will be responsible for a variety of player services, including protecting physical and mental health, developing their careers and maximizing success on and off the field. Chin previously served as executive vice president, strategic engagement and development.
■ David Foster, The NBPA Assistant General Counsel will have an elevated role and additional responsibility to help create and implement long-term strategic business plans designed to drive the growth of the union, as well as working alongside Klempner.
■ Danielle Marsh was appointed Senior Director of Human Resources. Marsh was until recently executive director of human resources at Walden University.