Jermaine O'Neal won a 10-game reduction today in his suspension for fighting with fans during the Nov. 19 Pacers-Pistons brawl, but an arbitrator...
NEW YORK – Jermaine O’Neal won a 10-game reduction today in his suspension for fighting with fans during the Nov. 19 Pacers-Pistons brawl, but an arbitrator upheld NBA commissioner David Stern’s bans on Ron Artest and two other Indiana players.
Arbitrator Roger Kaplan’s decision could make O’Neal eligible to return Saturday, when the Pacers host the Detroit Pistons in the teams’ first matchup since one of the most violent melees in NBA history.
It was unclear whether the NBA would recognize Kaplan’s decision. The league refused to participate in the arbitration hearing Kaplan conducted Dec. 9.
The NBA had no immediate comment.
“We’re extremely pleased that Jermaine will have the opportunity to play, although we respectfully disagree with the decision on the other three players,” players’ union director Billy Hunter said. “We are also pleased that the arbitrator has affirmed the right of players to appeal disciplinary measures.”
In a 28-page decision, Kaplan upheld Artest’s season-long suspension and the penalties given to Stephen Jackson (30 games) and Anthony Johnson (six games). O’Neal’s ban was reduced from 25 games to 15.
The union had asked for substantial reductions in the penalties during a six-hour arbitration hearing at a Manhattan law office. The NBA declined to participate, saying Kaplan had no jurisdiction to arbitrate penalties for on-court behavior — an area in which the league contends the commissioner has sole discretion.
Kaplan ruled that he had jurisdiction to hear the case, and that Stern had just cause to issue the suspensions he gave to Artest, Jackson and Johnson.
The matter could move to federal court if the league decides to challenge Kaplan’s ruling — or if the union feels it has to sue to have Kaplan’s judgment enforced.
The NBA has already filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court challenging Kaplan’s authority to hear the grievance, a complaint that remains pending before U.S. District Judge George B. Daniels.
Each of the players testified before Kaplan during the hearing, and union attorneys submitted three lines of argument on the issue of jurisdiction.
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.”
The arbitrator also reviewed videotape of the entire 12-minute brawl, 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.
Five Pacers players and seven fans face charges.