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Shameka Christon and Becky Hammon vs. Nadezhda - FIBA Decides

(Shameka Christon's BAT summary is at this link, and Becky Hammon's is at this one.)

During the off-season players from the WNBA try to earn a little extra money playing basketball overseas. This is harder than it looks. Not only does one have to travel, to face injury, to struggle without rest and under the burdens of a foreign tongue, but sometimes the players have to deal with legal disputes with their foreign clubs.

Whenever players and clubs have it out, they take it up with FIBA, the international basketball governing body. The judgments of that body are rendered by the BAT, the Basketball Arbitral Tribunal. You might imagine a judge wearing a wig and banging a gavel, but rarely are hearings held involving someone's physical presence. Both parties argue their case in writing, and the tribunal judges under the principle of "ex aequo et bono", which allows the arbitrators to dispense with international law and judge the case on the basis of common sense fairness - very convenient when the dispute takes place between parties of different nationalities.

San Antonio's Shameka Christon had a dispute with Russian team Nadezhda which was settled in December 2011 and released in Janaury 2012. Her case was bound with the case of her Silver Stars teammate Becky Hammon, who also played for Nadezhda. Her case was settled in April 2012 and released in the same month.

The issue follows. Christon was signed to play with Nadezhda for $180,000 for the 2010-11 season. Hammon was signed to play for the same club for $375,000 during the 2010-11 season and $400,000 during the 2011-12 season. Both players were represented by the same agent and both players showed up in November for their physical exams.

The club sent an e-mail to their agent, stating that neither of them were in physical shape to play. Christon had been injured during the WNBA season in June 2010 and had had surgeries in July and August. Christon was playing 30+ minutes for Nadezhda but the club wasn't happy with her performance. When Nadezhda was eliminated from Euroleague in February 2011, Nadezhda wanted to cut Christon loose, claiming that Christon didn't make any use of the health facilities or personnel at the club's disposal. Supposedly, the club had warned Christon that this was...you know...Russia and maybe she should wear a coat so that she didn't get sick, but she didn't heed their advice and she did get sick.

The BAT's decision? If Nadezhda wasn't happy with Christon's physical shape, the time to express that was at the medical exam. But they cleared her for play, so they had no grounds to complain about her poor physical condition since they could have simply rejected her. Basically, the principle was "buyer beware". The club misplaced its confidence in an injured player. As for the other complaints, the BAT simply didn't believe that Christon was acting in bad faith in a "systematic" way that undermined her performance. And sickness is no grounds to breach a contract. However, since her agent admitted that she wasn't completely in playing shape, the BAT reduced the remaining salary that the club owned her by 25 percent.

Hammon's case was a bit trickier - obviously, she didn't play for Nadezda in 2011-12. She found work with Spartak Moscow for $340,000. However, that was a loss of $60,000 in salary, the salary she'd have earned if Nadezhda hadn't cut her loose in February 2011- so Hammon wanted compensation for the lost revenue.

Basically, the Russians had a threefold argument - Hammon wasn't in shape, she performed poorly and she didn't follow her coach's instructions. Her case is more complex and the decison basically states that Nadezhda couldn't prove its case. She receive the $150,000 of missing salary from her truncated season in Nadezhda and also earned the $60,000 gap between her (hypothetical) salary from Nadezhda and her salary from Spartak Moscow.

The conclusions?

1) Both Christon and Hammon are pulling down six-digit salaries overseas, at least from Russian clubs.
2) Sometimes, you can earn a sweet salary from not playing basketball.

But couldn't the club, you know, just NOT OBEY the ruling? Not if it doesn't want to become a "sanctioned club" in FIBA's eyes. If you become an outlaw club, you can't sign international players and if you're an agent signing your players with these bad clubs, well, FIBA's now got its eye on you, too.



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