A federal judge ruled yesterday that Indiana All-Star Jermaine O'Neal does not have to serve the final 10 games of his suspension for fighting with fans at the end of the Pacers-Pistons...

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NEW YORK — A federal judge ruled yesterday that Indiana All-Star Jermaine O’Neal does not have to serve the final 10 games of his suspension for fighting with fans at the end of the Pacers-Pistons game last month.



The ruling makes permanent the temporary decision U.S. District Judge George B. Daniels made last week, which allowed O’Neal to return to action even though he had not served all of the 25-game suspension imposed by commissioner David Stern.



The league went to court after arbitrator Roger Kaplan said O’Neal’s penalty should be cut to 15 games, citing the player’s “character, community involvement and citizenship.”



The NBA challenged Kaplan’s authority to hear an appeal of Stern’s punishment.



“We are puzzled with Judge Daniels’ ruling because the collective-bargaining agreement states that an appeal of a suspension for ‘conduct on the playing court’ may be made only to the commissioner, not to an arbitrator, and Jermaine O’Neal’s actions took place entirely on the playing court,” the NBA said in a statement.



Hours of legal arguments this week and last week focused on whether the brawl could be considered on-court or off-court behavior. Language in player contracts seemed to indicate on-court behavior is punishable by the league commissioner and cannot be appealed to an arbitrator.



League lawyer Jeffrey Mishkin argued that the fight with fans was on-court behavior, especially when players were “wearing an NBA uniform on national television.”



Union attorney Jeffrey Kessler argued that it was not.



“Fighting with or striking a fan has never been characterized as conduct on the playing court,” Daniels said, reading from a written ruling. “Striking a fan is inexcusable, and appropriately considered something different and much more serious.”





Notes



Yao Ming is more than 60,000 votes ahead of Shaquille O’Neal in the race to finish No. 1 overall in All-Star Game balloting.



Through two rounds of voting, Yao — the center for the Western Conference’s Houston Rockets — has 1,373,458. O’Neal of the Miami Heat tops the Eastern Conference with 1,311,762.



Minnesota’s Kevin Garnett is third overall, leading West forwards with 1,142,804 votes, followed by San Antonio’s Tim Duncan (886,547).



In the East, New Jersey’s Vince Carter (938,817) and Orlando’s Grant Hill (848,061) lead the forwards, while Cleveland’s LeBron James (843,363) and Philadelphia’s Allen Iverson (825,179) top the guards.



• Phoenix Suns chairman Jerry Colangelo underwent successful prostate-cancer surgery in New York, the team said. Colangelo, 65, was diagnosed with prostate cancer last month. He was resting comfortably following the operation and will remain in the hospital for a few days.