Ron Artest took the witness stand and described one of the worst brawls in NBA history. Teammates Stephen Jackson, Jermaine O'Neal and Anthony Johnson did the same, and a union...

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NEW YORK — Ron Artest took the witness stand and described one of the worst brawls in NBA history. Teammates Stephen Jackson, Jermaine O’Neal and Anthony Johnson did the same, and a union attorney and one of O’Neal’s bodyguards also testified.

It went on for six hours, with none of the witnesses being cross-examined by anyone from the league office.

One of the strangest grievance hearings in NBA history unfolded yesterday at a Manhattan law office just three blocks away from league headquarters, with arbitrator Roger Kaplan hearing arguments on the brawl-related suspensions issued by commissioner David Stern.

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The NBA, contending the arbitrator had no jurisdiction, declined to participate. At least a half-dozen chairs sat vacant inside a conference room at a Manhattan law office as the hearing took place.

“We (introduced) evidence that we would have put on had the NBA been here, it just means that the arbitrator got to hear our side and not any opposition or rebuttal that the NBA would care to introduce,” union director Billy Hunter said.

The union asked for a “significant” reduction in each of the suspensions, though union officials would not specify what alternative penalties they suggested.

Kaplan indicated he would not issue a ruling for at least a week.

Stern, citing a clause in the collective-bargaining agreement giving him authority to impose discipline for on-court behavior, suspended Artest for the remainder of the season, Jackson for 30 games, O’Neal for 25 games and Johnson for five — penalties the union contends were excessive.

Each of the players testified for at least a half-hour, and union attorneys submitted three lines of argument on the issue of jurisdiction, challenging the league’s position that the players’ only avenue of appeal is through the commissioner’s office.

The union cited a 1995 modification to the collective-bargaining agreement allowing for appeals in cases where the financial penalty to the disciplined played exceeds $25,000. The union also argued the definitions of what constitutes “reasonable” punishment and “on-court behavior.”

“If, for example, a player were to go and stand in the center of the court and moon the fans, as far as we’re concerned that’s not on the court,” Hunter said. “That has nothing to do with the game itself. That’s kind of an off-the-court thing, because on the court actually means flow, the basketball game, the rules and regulations that control the tempo and how the game is played.”

The arbitrator also reviewed videotape of the entire 12-minute brawl on Nov. 19 in Auburn Hills, Mich., in which Artest sprinted into the stands and confronted a fan he believed had thrown a drink at him. Jackson also went into the stands and exchanged punches with fans, while O’Neal and Johnson punched fans who came onto the court.

“When you look at it all together, you see the bigger picture,” union attorney Jeffrey Kessler said. “You can see the entire context.”

None of the players commented as they left the hearing.

Kaplan must issue two rulings — whether he had jurisdiction to hear a grievance, as well as the actual grievance itself. If he were to rule in favor of the union on both counts, the players would likely sue in federal court to have Kaplan’s judgment enforced.

The NBA has already filed suit against the union and the four players in U.S. District Court in Manhattan, contending they are pursuing a grievance before an arbitrator who has no authority to intervene.

That lawsuit remains pending, with the league having decided earlier this week not to seek a temporary restraining order that might have prevented yesterday’s hearing from going forward.

Kaplan said he would try to issue a ruling before the latter part of next week, though he cautioned that might not be possible.

Johnson has already served his suspension, so the best he could hope for is the return of lost salary. Artest, Jackson and O’Neal were to serve the ninth game of their suspensions tonight when the Pacers play at Milwaukee.

The league issued no public comments regarding the hearing.


Hip and knee injuries might sideline Nets’ Mourning


EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — Hip, knee, hand and leg problems might force New Jersey Nets center Alonzo Mourning to spend some time on the injured list because his body is “breaking down.”

Mourning, who returned to action this season less than a year after receiving a kidney transplant, said the toll of not playing for almost two years might cause him to miss today’s game against New Orleans.

“Right now my body is breaking down on me physically,” Mourning said. “The only way for me to get better is to rest it. My knee, my hip, my hand, all that stuff is kind of hampering me right now and keeping me from performing at a higher level.”

Mourning said his condition has nothing to do with his kidney transplant, which was on his right side. He received a kidney from a cousin in December 2003.

Notes

• The Washington Wizards suspended F Kwame Brown for one game for his actions during the previous night’s game against Denver.

Brown refused to join a team huddle after coach Eddie Jordan berated him and the rest of the team for a poor defensive series in the second quarter of Wednesday’s 111-105 loss to the Nuggets. Jordan benched Brown for the rest of the game and excused him from yesterday’s practice.

Brown will miss today’s game against the New York Knicks.

“Kwame has been suspended for conduct detrimental to the team, and will rejoin the team on Saturday,” Jordan said.

• Denver Nuggets F Rodney White was suspended without pay for one game by the league for pleading guilty to unlawful possession of a weapon.

He will miss today’s game against the Toronto Raptors.

White pleaded guilty to two weapons charges Tuesday in Washington, D.C., and agreed to 100 hours of community service. A third charge was dropped.