Another chapter has been written in the saga involving Dwight Howard and the Orlando Magic. This time Howard claims the Magic “blackmailed” him into signing the addendum to his contract to remain with the Magic through next season. Howard also claims the Magic made promises to him if he signed and have not kept them. Howard approached the NBA Players Association (NBAPA) about his legal options against the Magic.
Here is an overview of some basic legal docrtines that may apply to this situation:
Misrepresentation is a false statement of fact made by one party to induce another party into a contract. The criteria for misrepresentation are: 1) A false statement has been made 2) to the other party and 3) the other party was actually induced into the contract by the false statement. In this case, it is difficult to analyze whether the Magic made any false statements to induce Howard into signing since we do not know what was said. If Howard were to bring a suit against the NBA and is able to prove misrepresentation on the part of the Magic, he may be able to void the addendum he signed and become a free agent immediately.
Another legal doctrine that may be related to this issue is promissory estoppel. This doctrine prevents a party who makes a promise from withdrawing that promise once the other party has relied on the promise to their detriment. There are three elements to promissory estoppel: 1) A promise was made by words or conduct, 2) the promisee relies on the promise to his detriment and 3) there would be inequity if the promisor were to go back on their promise. Applied to this case, the assumption is the Magic made a promise to Howard that induced him into signing. The Magic, according to Howard have now withdrawn those promises to Howard’s detriment.
Parol Evidence Rule
The parol evidence rule prevents a party to a written contract from introducing extrinsic evidence that contradicts or adds to the terms of the written contract. While it is generally used when the interpretation of the terms is in question, the idea of this rule is that when two parties agree to certain terms and reduce it to a writing, no additional or different terms may be added to the contract. In this case, Howard claims that the Magic made promises to him if he signed the addendum. Unless those terms were added in writing, Howard may be out of luck. However, because we do not yet know what promises Howard was made, we can’t accurately say whether he has a case.
Validity of Oral Contracts
If the promises that Howard claims the Magic made were in return for signing the addendum and were not in writing, it is still possible for Howard to show they constitute an enforceable contract. It will not be clear cut and Howard will need to show evidence. If there were witnesses present during the conversation in which the promises were made, (Howard’s agent, other Magic executives etc.) their testimony can be used as evidence to prove the existence of a contract. Also, the fact that Howard signed the addendum (performed his side of the purported contract) is also helpful for him. Ultimately it will be up to the courts to decide whether there was a contract or not. I don’t think Howard will have a strong argument that the failure of the Magic to follow through on oral promises voids him opting into the extra year.
My personal opinion is that Howard should never have signed for the extra year. It would have been in his best interest to play out the season, become a free agent, and sign wherever he wanted to over the summer. Howard’s claim that he was blackmailed by the Magic into signing the contract is frivolous in legal terms. This claim leaves me wondering how much control his agent has over his actions.
I think it’s unlikely the Magic will let this get out of hand and that Howard actually proceeds with bringing legal action against them. There may also be other legal issues involved in the situation. Please feel free to comment if you see any that I have missed.