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Presidential timber

Between coaching jobs, Carlisle delivers in union role

Posted: Thursday March 20, 2008 1:49PM; Updated: Thursday March 20, 2008 1:54PM
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Rick Carlisle has stayed busy since leaving the Pacers' bench after last season.
Rick Carlisle has stayed busy since leaving the Pacers' bench after last season.
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Rick Carlisle approaches the offseason among the top candidates on the coaching market, along with his ESPN colleague Jeff Van Gundy. But Carlisle swears there is no hurry for a return to the NBA. He has been busy in front of the camera as a TV analyst, and even more so in front of his computer.

"I feel like a lawyer sometimes,'' he said.

As president of the coaches' union, Carlisle has helped improve relationships with the league and especially with the owners. The latter group voted in October for a 28 percent increase in the union's retirement, providing coaches, front-office executives and athletic trainers with a pension that graduates up to $160,000 annually for 15 or more years of NBA service.

"Through this process, the entire coaching fraternity has gained a much greater appreciation for the challenges NBA owners face,'' Carlisle said. "We're going to continue to commit the full weight of our association and its resources to try to improve the NBA game and protect the business of NBA basketball.''

It wasn't easy. Carlisle worked with Board of Governors chairman Micky Arison -- owner of the Miami Heat -- and other owners on compromises to make the increase reasonable for both sides.

The annual pension for coaches had been $125,000, which left the NBA far behind the coaches' pensions in football ($180,000) and baseball ($185,000). In 2005, the union had requested a pension increase to $150,000, but the proposal was tabled because owners had questions about the overall cost.

"It became increasingly clear through this process that the NBA business model was vastly different from baseball and football, and that our owners faced a host of unique challenges that the owners in those other two sports did not,'' Carlisle said. "The challenge for all of us to work together to build a model that is successful -- to the point of getting to that level with a pension -- is something that can happen down the road.''

Carlisle still isn't sure how he entered this mess. He was elected president of the association in 2005 to replace Lenny Wilkens, who had provided 18 years of union leadership.

"You talk about big shoes to fill -- this guy's a legend on many levels and one of the most respected men in the game,'' Carlisle said. "I was not at the meeting when it happened. I'm not even convinced I was the one elected.''

"That was funny,'' recalled Celtics coach Doc Rivers, who was at the meeting as one of three finalists for the presidency. "It was Rick, me and someone else -- and we voted for Rick.''

Carlisle spent the next two years investigating the pension with the help of Michael Goldberg, executive director of the coaches' association. An increase to $150,000 in 2005 would have cost the owners an average of $275,000 per year. Carlisle would ultimately rescale the pension plan so that a hike to $160,000 would cost the owners less than $150,000 annually.

The existing plan enabled coaches to claim the benefit at a younger age than federal law; Carlisle eliminated that perk. The coaches also agreed to a limit of four assistants per team on the plan (while grandfathering in coaches who remain with the same team), resulting in a savings to owners of almost $50,000 annually.

But the innovation that makes him proud was a donation on behalf of the coaches' association to the Boys & Girls Clubs of America. Each coach will donate a uniform percentage of his salary annually over the next 15 years, resulting in a total donation of $15 million to the charity.

"The agreement is that the Boys & Girls Clubs will have people in every NBA city who are going to work with the local franchise, and the money is going to go right back to the teams in the form of ticket revenue,'' Carlisle said. "It's going to go for tickets for kids that wouldn't have the chance to go to games otherwise.

"This does a couple of different things. For us in the association, we're getting involved in something good. We also saved operating costs, and a lot of the money is going to go back to the teams.''

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