Does Cuttino Mobley Have a Case?

Via the NY Post:

Former NBA guard Cuttino Mobley sued the Knicks Wednesday in federal court, claiming the team “saved millions” by sending him to a doctor “they knew would disqualify him from playing” due to a heart condition soon after trading for him in 2008.

Mobley claims the Knicks pulled that stunt to save money in payments toward the NBA’s “luxury tax” for teams with high payrolls, and also to clear “room under the salary cap in their request to retain the services of other [marquee] players.”

“Mobley’s career was effectively ended,” says the disability discrimination suit in Manhattan federal court filed by the retired journeyman guard, who before being signed by the Knicks in 2008 had played for the Los Angeles Clippers, leading them to within a game of the Western Conference Finals in 2006.He also played for the Houston Rockets, Orlando Magic and Sacramento Kings.

The Knicks strongly denied the claims.

Mobley’s lawsuit claims that he was first diagnosed in 1999 with a condition called hypertrophic cardiomyopathy – a thickening of the heart wall — and that he was thereafter “medically cleared every year, by every NBA team he played for, subject only to his signing a waiver of liability, until his arrival at the Knicks.” The suit said “the Knicks were aware of his HCM condition when they agreed to take over his contract.”

But, the suit said as a means to save about $19 million in league luxury tax payments and in insurance coverage for his inability to play, the Knicks selected two cardiologists to evaluate him, who were “both well-known opponents of allowing players with HCM to play.”

Those doctors then “opined that Mobley should not play,” the suit said.

“Mobley was forced and pressured by the Knicks to announce his retirement” in December 2008 — without every playing a second for the squad — the suit said.

The Knicks, in a statement, strongly denied the allegations that they purposely engineered Mobley’s disqualification from playing as a means to save $19 million in related luxury tax and and salary costs. And the contention in the suit that Mobley’s retirement helped them get under the salary cap to sign players is flawed. Mobley’s contract expired after the 2008-2009 season and the Knicks were attempting to get under the cap to sign players by the summer of 2010. Mobley’s retirement was irrelevant to that strategy.

I do not know all of the facts, or even most of the facts, so I do not have a definitive factual opinion but I do not see Mobley winning this case. I think Mobley could potentially make a valid argument if the facts are there but it seems hard for me to believe the Knicks traded for Mobley with the intention of ending his career. There is no doubt that Mobley was acquired (for Zach Randolph and Mardy Collins) for his expiring contract but it seems hard to believe that a guy like Donnie Walsh would want to end Mobley’s career. The idea of the suit is that Mobley was traded and then forced to retire in order to save cap room for the 2010 off-season. However, Mobley’s contract ran out after the 2008-2009 season therefore making his 2009 retirement irrelevant to the off-season of 2010. Looking back on quotes by both Mobley and Walsh at the time of Mobley’s retirement, I do not think Mobley has a case. At the time of his retirement, Mobley seemed content and relieved to have learned about his heart ailment:

“It’s definitely a scary thing,” Mobley, 33, said. “But you can live a normal life, so that’s a good thing. And I have a long one to live.”Getting the M.R.I. basically saved my life,” via the NY Post

As mentioned in the same article, then Knicks president Donnie Walsh alluded that Mobley had retired on his own: ”…I would never put a player out there that’s at the risk that he would be at. And I was happy that he arrived at that himself.”

Obviously we will get more facts as this story develops but I do not see Mobley winning this one. Those quotations alone seem to suggest that not only was retirement the correct decision but that Mobley retired on his own. Then again, James Dolan is probably involved in some fashion so you never know…

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