How an encounter with a stingray led Cheryl Meyers Buth to the NBA

Cheryl Meyers Buth Meyers Buth Law Group; Criminal Defense, Entertainment & Sports; Orchard Park

If you see Cheryl Meyers Buth tooling around Orchard Park in her Jeep, please stop asking her if she knows LeBron James. She doesn’t. “If I had a nickel for every time someone asked me that,” she says, laughing. (She does, however, have his agent’s number.)

Why does Buth, one of Buffalo’s most renowned criminal lawyers, find herself questioned about one of basketball’s greats?

You’d have to go back to an unfortunate run-in with a stingray.

Buth and husband Neil (“The best life partner,” she says) skipped town in 2015 to do nothing but lie on a Florida beach after Buth finished a monthlong federal trial. But the first day in those azure waters, “A stingray got me. The barb punctured my ankle,” Buth says. For the rest of the trip—and afterward—Buth was laid up. “I had a lot of time to think about life,” she says. Largely, she thought: I need something to do after I retire.

A lifelong obsession with the NBA and a love for playing basketball—”but I’m no Kathleen Sweet,” she quips—got the wheels turning. She wondered what it would take to get a sports-management agency running.

So Buth completed the training to become a certified agent for the National Basketball Players Association. Now in addition to Meyers Buth Law Group, the criminal defense and civil lit shop she runs with partner Laurie A. Baker, she owns R1 Sports Mgnt. She works with mostly athletes, but her talent roster includes Juilliard-trained vocalist Jay Dref; hip-hop artist Young World; as well as local TV and news personalities.

Her dual gigs put her at the pulse of two male-dominated industries.

“It’s empowering because you are challenging yourself and accepted norms,” Buth says. “It’s frustrating because some doors still aren’t open.”

She uses her unique position to get into rooms anyway.

“There’s no better icebreaker with guys than sports,” she says. “It’s not all that different from me growing up playing kickball with the boys. You learned not to care that you got picked last because once they saw you weren’t the worst, they stopped punching you in the arm when you got on base and started to high-five you instead.”

With R1, she’s enjoyed getting to know the lawyers who support the Players Association.

“It’s been great learning from them,” Buth says. “Taking the classes required for certification as an agent and learning about the league’s collective bargaining agreement or arbitration cases or trade and salary cap issues is intense. It gives so much more context to what you hear on ESPN. The most interesting stuff happens off the court.”

Along the way, Buth befriended veteran agent Andre Buck. “He’s taught me a lot and has referred players to me when they need legal help,” she says. “I’ve represented top prospects in basketball and football who have been arrested or who jeopardized their eligibility.”

But for Buth, it comes back to the law. “I’m a lawyer first,” she says.

In her early years, after a crash course in criminal defense with some of the best in the biz—Paul Cambria, Herb Greenman, Joseph LaTona, Barry Covert, Vince Tobia, Rob Boreanaz and mentor Joel Daniels—she knew she wanted to go on her own eventually, and on her terms.

“I’ve been given a lot of advice from lawyers who don’t know me well who tried to tell me how I needed to bill, or which clients to take or that I’m not a player if I’m not downtown,” Buth says. “That advice, with all due respect, is 100 percent wrong. That’s why I quietly practice in Orchard Park, drive a Jeep and charge $200 and not $400.”

She’s seen a change in her practice, with a recent uptick in federal death penalty cases. “At the moment I’m waiting for a decision from the DOJ about whether they intend to seek death for a client,” she says. “It’s challenging intellectually and personally.”

The next challenge is helping level the playing field for women.

“In both law and sports, women are finding ways to influence their respective fields,” she says, giving snaps to Michele Roberts, the first woman executive director of the National Basketball Players Association; as well as to Judge Elizabeth Wolford, the district’s first female judge, and Trini Ross, whom Sen. Chuck Schumer recently backed for U.S. attorney.

“But women are still underrepresented as law firm owners, big-firm partners, federal judges and in politics,” she says. “It’s so frustrating when I look around and see the small number of women handling criminal cases in federal court. But I can see how much has changed since I started 25 years ago. It gives me hope.”