Basketball / BJ-League

Agent rips Evessa after they pay off Cox over lawsuit threat

by Ed Odeven

Staff Writer

The once-mighty Osaka Evessa’s spiraling-out-of-control reputation has taken another major hit. And FIBA, basketball’s world governing body, entered the picture for this latest incident.

Threatened with a lawsuit for allegedly refusing to honor its contract with center Larry Cox, the Evessa agreed to make a cash settlement to the recently released player, The Japan Times has learned.

Cox, who played four games for the Evessa, was let go on Oct. 22.

Dejan Vidicki, president of Court Side, a global basketball management company, said the Evessa did not honor the terms of Cox’s contract.

“No reason was given for the termination, nor was it made it in writing,” Vidicki said Friday.

“Cox signed a mandatory league contract. It was fully guaranteed.”

Osaka Evessa spokesman Makoto Yamada did not respond to requests for comment.

There have been multiple instances where foreign players and coaches have demanded arbitration with the league office and been given the runaround or completely ignored, several sources have pointed out over the years. Despite having more than 80 imports in the league, there is not an international department within the league’s structure to handle issues involving foreigners.

Cox, a 211-cm Mississippi Valley State product, had a stellar 15-point, 19-rebound, five block game in his Osaka debut on Oct. 13 against the Takamatsu Five Arrows. The Evessa dropped that contest and the next three, then coach Zoran Kreckovic was fired. Takao Furuya was named the new Evessa coach on the same day that Cox was let go. (The 0-4 Evessa return to action on Nov. 10 against the host Oita HeatDevils.)

According to the bj-league’s standard player contract, a copy of which was obtained by The Japan Times, a termination announcement must be made in writing. Vidicki claims this was never done by the Evessa.

In the days after he was cut, Cox and his agent were stone-walled by the Evessa.

“We tried to communicate with the club via telephone, fax and email,” Vidicki said. “They never responded to anything. We then turned to the bj-league to demand an arbitration. Same story there. No response at all to anything.”

For Court Side and Cox, the next step was to contact FIBA.

Benjamin Cohen, FIBA’s legal affairs manager, was informed of the issue.

“Even before the first game was played, Cox was told that he would be fired unless he played well,” Vidicki said.

As a team, the Evessa have not performed up to their standard of excellence from past seasons — seven straight playoff berths, six Final Fours, four championship game appearances and three titles — but a four-game stint is not a sufficient time period to evaluate a player, many people would say.

Cox had six points, 11 rebounds and one block in his second game. In the Oct. 20-21 series against the Shiga Lakestars, he fouled out twice. He had four points in the opener and 11 points, four rebounds and five blocks a day later.

The Evessa formally announced they signed 211-cm big man Rick Rickert, a former Minnesota Timberwolves draft pick who played for the Kyoto Hannaryz last season, on Oct. 29. He was picked up to fill Cox’s roster spot.

Reflecting on the way the Evessa and bj-league handled Cox’s case, Vidicki harshly criticized the process.

“That league forces all players to sign a uniform league contract in which league arbitration is the exclusive way to solve contract disputes,” Vidicki said. “That paragraph (regarding arbitration) has no meaning, since the bj-league does not act in accordance with its own rules. An organization that imposes rules, but refuses to respect those same rules makes itself very vulnerable to legal claims.

“Whether it was the threat of a lawsuit or the pressure from FIBA, I don’t know, but eventually Osaka offered a cash amount to Cox if he would leave the country with the next plane. The amount was substantial and he accepted. Also, because he already has an offer from elsewhere.”

Cox departed from Japan earlier this week.

“I am happy with the settlement,” Vidicki said, “but in a way regret that this did not go all the way in court.”

The exact amount of Cox’s settlement was unknown at press time. His salary for the 2012-13 season was slated to be $64,350.

“My conclusion is that the bj-league and the team of Osaka are extremely unprofessional and also rude and negligent since they even refused to communicate,” Vidicki said.

New challenge

Coach Ryan Blackwell, preparing for his first weekend in charge of the 0-8 Gunma Crane Thunders, said his immediate target is to put the expansion franchise in a position to be competitive.

“My goals are to make these players better and see that they improve individually and as a team,” said Blackwell, who coached the Osaka Evessa the past two seasons.

Gunma plays host to the Yokohama B-Corsairs this weekend.

“Obviously, Gunma hasn’t had a lot of success so far so I need to assess what the weaknesses and strengths of the team as a whole are and the players individually, then go from there,” added the former Osaka and Sendai 89ers forward.

“I’m familiar with a few of the Japanese players and two of our imports having coached against them last season,” he told The Japan Times.

“I think defensively is where the biggest change needs to come from. They’ve allowed way too many points already as a team so I’d like to see us be more defensive minded and I think that’ll be a good way for us to be more competitive.”