You Can’t Sue Your Favorite Team for Stinking, But Can You Sue Them for Intentionally Stinking?

by Greenberg Glusker Fields Claman & Machtinger LLP

My wife is very excited about tonight’s Laker game.  Not because she is a Laker fan.  Indeed, any actual Laker fan (like me) knows that now is a decidedly bad time to be a Laker fan.  True, during the last off-season we acquired Superman a/k/a D12 a/k/a Dwight Howard, and two-time MVP Steve Nash season.  True, we still have the Black Mamba.  And yes, we still have (at least for the moment) Pau Gasol.  We even replaced former-coach-of-the-year Mike Brown with different former-coach-of-the-year Mike D’Antoni as our new head coach (although it meant passing on other former-coach-of-the-year Phil Jackson).  So why are the Clippers the L.A. basketball team going on franchise winning streaks, while the Lakers are a sub .500 team?  Why does the classic and hilarious Onion video about a Staples’ Center collapse scenario which mercifully brings about an early end to a Clippers game now seem like it should only apply to the Lakers?

Whatever the reason, my wife couldn’t care less.  Like I said, she’s not a Laker fan — she’s a Steve Nash fan.  It’s so bad, in fact, that she won’t even watch the game when Steve Nash is not on the floor.  She’ll just pick up her iPhone and look at cute animal pictures or surf for whatever it is that people do on  Maybe looking for pictures of Steve Nash?  In short, she completely loses interest.  So I can understand her paranoia about whether Steve Nash will suit up tonight (especially given his recent trouble with injuries).

But would my wife and I ever sue the Lakers for a refund if they decided to bench Steve Nash?  Of course not.  It’s not like we live in Miami!

Because these days, people apparently do that kind of thing in Miami…

Miami Lawyer Sues San Antonio Spurs for Benching Players

Finding a “fun” news story about the San Antonia Spurs is kind of like finding a copy of the L.A. Times Entertainment section with no mention of Lindsay Lohan getting arrested.  It just doesn’t happen very often.  Even though the Spurs have a fantastic head coach in Gregg Popovich and the best power forward the game of basketball has ever seen, they’ve just never been that exciting of a team.  They’re just a really, fundamentally sound team.  Frankly, the most fun article I have ever read about the Spurs (also from the Onion) was titled:  “Injured Manu Ginobili Only Flopping at 85%.”

But today, something wonderfully exciting happened in the world of Spurs sports news.  A Miami lawyer named Larry McGuinness filed a lawsuit against the Spurs on the grounds that Gregg Popovich “intentionally and surreptitiously” sent the team’s best players home to rest without the knowledge of the NBA and the fans attending the game.  Although the league already fined the team a controversial and unprecedented $250,000 for its decision to rest its top stars, Mr. McGuinness is claiming his own “economic damages” as a result of paying a premium price for a ticket that shouldn’t have cost so much.  McGuinness, who bought his ticket on the resale market, alleges:

“It was like going to Morton’s Steakhouse and paying $63 for porterhouse and they bring out cube steak.”

The irony, of course, is that the Spurs’ bench players almost beat the Miami Heat (one of the league’s best teams) that night.  In other words, it was more “like going to Morton’s Steakhouse and paying $63 for porterhouse and they bring out the most delicious cube steak you’ve ever had in your life.”  Still, McGuinness was understandably ticked off (even Pop had to admit the gripe was legitimate).

Spurned by the Spurs, and Soon to be Spurned by the Law

I am no expert on death penalty Texas state law (which McGuinness bases his claims on), but this kind of thing almost certainly would never fly in a California court room.  Mr. McGuinness may argue that the Spurs harmed him by breaking the league’s rules and benching their players.  But everyone knows that sometimes players don’t play for a variety of reasons:  e.g., injuries resulting from punching glass cases for fire extinguishers, flu-like symptoms, suspension for throwing unnecessary elbows at other players, suspension for brawling with fans, (yes, that’s two Artest references in a row), being benched for “conduct detrimental to the team,” getting suspended for drawing guns at a Christmas eve argument, etc, etc.  The NBA:  where totally crazy player conduct happens.

Given all of these examples, McGuinness seems to be positioning this as an “intentional” decision by the team rather than an irrational and unpredictable choice made by a player.  In support of his argument, he can point to David Stern’s punitive fine of $250,000 for breaking league policy.  Nevertheless, his argument is still a loser.  He paid to see the Spurs basketball team play basketball against the Miami Heat basketball team.  And that’s what he got.  He didn’t buy a ticket to see a game played by a five-man roster consisting of Manu Ginobili, Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, and whoever else he wanted to see — he paid to see the team.

Now, if only my wife was interested in seeing the Lakers team, instead of just Steve Nash, I might not have to explain all of this to her in the oh-man-I-hope-not-event that Steve Nash doesn’t play tonight.  Something tells me a lawsuit wouldn’t even begin to satisfy her outrage.

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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