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GEORGE DID IT
Last week the New York Knickerbockers signed George McGinnis—who had exercised a special provision in his contract to buy his way off the roster of the ABA Indiana Pacers—to a six-year, $2-plus million deal. A superlative all-round basketball player, the 6'8" McGinnis is just what the faltering Knicks need. And that, of course, is why they signed him.
The only thing wrong with what the Knicks did is that, according to the rules under which New York, all other NBA teams and, indeed, much of major league sport operate, McGinnis belongs to another NBA team, the Philadelphia 76ers. They drafted McGinnis in 1973 when his class graduated from Indiana University. By signing him, the Knicks flouted the draft system, which is designed to prevent richer teams from cornering the best talent and which NBA owners have claimed is essential to the economic survival of their sport.
What the Knicks did—and what other teams have done in the past—is to violate the rules when it suited their purpose after years of sanctimoniously demanding that the rules be upheld when their competitors were the violators. One Knick lawyer went so far as to declare that the draft is illegal because it constitutes a breach of the antitrust laws.
It was the older NBA franchises like New York that four years ago condemned Seattle Owner Sam Schulman for endangering the draft system when he bucked the rules to sign the ABA's Spencer Haywood. Indeed, the ensuing litigation in the Haywood case resulted in the elimination of the rule that made players eligible for the draft only when their college classes had graduated.
A subsequent court challenge to the draft, Joe Kapp vs. the NFL, put another dent in the system by limiting the duration of a team's exclusive rights to negotiate with a player it had drafted. McGinnis last week was in the midst of a suit against the NBA based on the Kapp precedent, which he dropped when New York up and signed him.
The mood of the courts in antitrust matters clearly is moving toward vastly altering or, even, eliminating the draft. By signing McGinnis, the Knicks may have hastened that trend. Philadelphia must now either accept compensation from New York or sue to get him. If the 76ers go to court, neither they nor the Knicks may like the result. The victor could be the NBA Players Association, which for years has been challenging the draft system and facing stiff resistance from management. If the players win at last, they can thank the owners for giving them a helping hand.
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