Reeves Nelson v. TIME, Inc.: A Potential Looming Disaster for UCLA Basketball

The "Reeves Nelson era" - it's one that UCLA basketball community rather forget. (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)

As Tydides wrote earlier the recent lawsuit filed by Reeves Nelson has generated a lot of passionate and emotional back and forth here on BruinsNation. For those who haven't seen the pleadings yet, here is the complaint with accompanying exhibits (PDF) (HT Classof66). Certainly this is directly tied to something we are all emotionally invested in - the program that was built by Coach John R. Wooden. Remember this program doesn't belong to someone like Ben Howland. As he has said multiple times he is not more than a "caretaker" and he really hasn't done a good job on that in last 4 years.

The more I read about this lawsuit the queasier I get in terms of what it could mean for UCLA basketball. Melvin Avanzado, a good friend of mine, a Bruin blue and gold bleeding alum, who happens to prominent entertainment attorney in LA scribed together his initial impressions on this lawsuit on his Entertainment Litigation Blog. If you haven't had a chance to check it out, head over there now. His entire analysis is a must read. Mel concludes that there is a chance that Nelson may survive the initial motion to dismiss but the outcome of that process could hurtful to UCLA.

Let's get a bit more into it after the jump.

Mel's points on George Dohrmann are worth paying close attention (emphasis added throughout):

The proliferation of social media and blogs -- like this one -- as well as speed of information in the internet age has not been kind to traditional, principled journalism. Concepts like journalistic ethics and principles of journalism that used to guide reporters and journalists seem anachronistic today where the need for speed overrides everything else. As a result, and not surprisingly, rumor or innuendo often becomes reported as "fact." Mistakes are often tolerated because, when discovered, retractions and apologies are issued to "fix" the problem.

Enter George Dohrmann.

By all appearances, Dohrmann is an experienced, principled journalist. He won the Pulitzer Prize in 2000 for his work at theSt. Paul (Minn.) Pioneer Press for a series in which he exposed academic fraud within the University of Minnesota basketball team. Dohrmann now reports for Sports Illustrated, part of Time Warner group of media companies that includes Time magazine and CNN. Obviously, these are legitimate news organizations. Organizations that you would expect would comport with traditional journalistic standards in publishing their articles. So you have an experience Pultizer Prize winning writer and a reputable publication -- all accused of defaming a player who was kicked off the UCLA basketball team. Which of those parties would you bet on?

Something we should all keep in mind. Here is Mel's take on how the process could play out. It's potentially going to be a long and painful litigation (for UCLA Basketball):

I would give Nelson a fair chance at surviving the initial motions attacking his case -- the motion to dismiss and any motion under the anti-SLAPP statute. If he presses on with it, Nelson's lawsuit should proceed to the discovery phase. That doesn't mean that Nelson will win his case. Discovery in this case will critical to see if Nelson can muster enough evidence to get to a trial. The player declarations are simply a first step -- a good first step -- in garnering such evidence. Those players will be subjected to depositions, and whether the details beyond what is contained in their declarations (drafted by Nelson's attorneys) will continue to support Nelson's claims remain to be seen.

If Nelson's lawsuit can survive summary judgment, then all bets are off. Predicting the result of a jury trial in any given case has spawned an industry onto itself. This uncertainty is what generally causes most cases to settle. However, the chances of Nelson winning the $10,000,000 he seeks in his complaint are slim.

And then he ends with this ominous note:

[I]f my prediction is correct -- and Nelson survives the initial motions in the case -- the case will take more than a year before a trial is likely -- even longer, if interim appeals are taken from the decision on the anti-SLAPP motion.

In the meantime, current and former players and staff on the UCLA men's basketball team will be reliving Nelson's career at UCLA in depositions -- and probably in the press. Frankly, that's an era of UCLA basketball that fans (and probably the team) would rather forget.

Couldn't agree more with the end graf.

I would add that Mel didn't take into account the PR/litigation strategy for a Fortune 500, mega billion dollar enterprise like Time Warner. If this lawsuit does survive initial SJM - and proceeds to discovery - there is a good chance that their battalion of attorneys will launching full scale media war which could entail leaking out material that will not only make Nelson look like a douchebag, it will make the entire program look awful. More from Bellerophon on this point from our comment threads:

In the end, UCLA gets exposed for having an out-of-control program, and then it's on UCLA to turn a negative into a positive:

(1) Howland is kept on, learns from his mistakes, and goes on to achieve great things in Westwood, or;

(2) UCLA severs ties with Guerrero and Howland, bring in competent administrators and a top-end basketball coach

If UCLA decided to do nothing, keep Guerrero on and let Howland slide without punishment, then the negative that comes to UCLA (what you call the parts that "hurt" UCLA) is the product of UCLA's own decisions, of the university's failure to take corrective action.

No matter what, bad things will happen at a major institution like UCLA. That doesn't hurt UCLA. It happens everywhere, even places like Stanford or Harvard. What hurts UCLA is failing to take corrective action, to bury our heads in the sand, and blame everyone else while refusing to accept accountability and responsibility. In other words, acting like U$C.

So note of caution as we go through an off-season leading up to perhaps the most dramatic boom or bust season during the Post Wooden era of UCLA basketball. There is absolutely no margin of error left for Howland at this point.

There will be no room for excuses if next year's program - which currently is a pre-season top-10 team - doesn't put together a season of through Pac-12 domination, a legit run to title number 12, and a wire to wire top-10 season. With those expectations in place, we are not sure how the clouds around this lawsuit would be helpful to our Bruins. Right now this is looming as a potential disaster for UCLA basketball.

GO BRUINS.

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