Arbitrator Could Reduce Pacers' Suspensions
By Greg Sandoval
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, December 15, 2004; 4:31 PM
An abritrator in New York could decide as early as Friday to reduce the suspensions of three Indiana Pacers involved in the Nov. 19 brawl with fans in Auburn Hills, Mich. Should he rule against the NBA, the league may have little hope of reversing the decision, according to a prominent labor lawyer.
The NBA players' union argued during a hearing last week before arbitrator Roger Kaplan that the suspensions of Ron Artest (73 games), Jermaine O'Neal (25 games) and Stephen Jackson (30 games) handed down by NBA commissioner David Stern were excessive. The three players were videotaped throwing punches at fans at the end of the Pacers' victory over the Detroit Pistons.
The NBA refused to participate in last week's hearing, claiming that the players union agreed in the current labor contract that Stern would have the final word for on-court disciplinary matters, a risky move according to legal experts.
The league filed a complaint in federal court, maintaining that Kaplan had no jurisdiction in the matter. But according to labor lawyers, once an arbitrator rules, the federal courts almost never overturns their decisions.
"The nice thing about arbitration, from the employee's view, is that it's effectively unreviewable," said Neal Mollen, who heads the employment law department for the Paul Hastings law firm in Washington. "The courts have shown an enormous reluctance to overturn arbitration decisions. It happens but it's extremely rare."
Should Kaplan reduce the suspensions and the courts decline to overturn his ruling, then it's conceivable that Artest could return this season.
The NBA and players' union could have avoided the legal fight had Stern and NBA players' union executive director Billy Hunter fostered a better working relationship, said a player agent who requested anonymity.
By handing down unprecedented punishments, Stern pushed Hunter into a corner, the agent said, adding that in a year when the league and union must hammer out a new collective bargaining agreement, Hunter had no choice but to go to war on the issue. Had he not, the former federal prosecutor would have appeared weak to some of memberships' hardliners, he believes.
But by fighting Stern's decision, and possibly winning a reduction, Hunter and the league risk further alienating fans, the agent said. "The two of them should have gone somewhere quiet and hashed out a compromise," said the agent, who represents multiple NBA players.
"The union could have agreed not to fight if the league agreed to go soft on O'Neal and Jackson. Something. But fighting it out only hurts the game in the eyes of the fans."
. . . Los Angeles Lakers guard Kobe Bryant paid $40 million to get out of his Adidas shoe contract, and many of his other endorsers, such as McDonalds and Nike, have complained that Bryant and his agent, Rob Pelinka, were difficult to work with and "high-handed," according to the Los Angeles Times. Bryant last week fired a fusillade of accusations at former teammate and mentor Karl Malone. Bryant claims that Malone has made unwanted sexual advances at Bryant's wife, Vanessa. In the past three years, Bryant has become estranged with a long list of former teammates, friends and family, including his parents, sisters, Shaquille O'Neal, and Phil Jackson.
. . . The NBA has said there is no truth to the theory offered by Chicago Bulls operations chief John Paxson that referees are less likely to send teams without all-stars to the foul line, the Chicago Sun-Times reports. Paxson argues that his team gets fewer calls, as do other NBA teams that lack a recognizable all-star."They call it a myth that the four teams without all-star players don't get calls," Paxson said. "So I have to trust that they're telling everybody the truth. But it's hard to watch night in and night out when you feel like there are calls throughout the game that go one way, then at the end of the game they tend to go another."
In Monday night's 94-93 loss to the Dallas Mavericks at the United Center, Mavs All-Star Dirk Nowitzki made more free throws (13) than the Bulls attempted (12).
. . . LeBron James tells the Cleveland Plain Dealer that one area of his game is more important to him than high-flying dunks and dizzying moves to the basket.
James averages 2.62 steals a night, third in the league behind the Washington Wizards Larry Hughes (3.17) and the Indiana Pacers' Jamaal Tinsley (2.75).
He hopes teams will overlook that skill, so he "can try to lead the league in steals," James said. "It's just instinct. I put myself in the right position to get that steal. I get a big one every game."
James sealed a victory for the Cavaliers when he snatched a pass away from the Memphis Grizzlies on Monday and scored on a dunk.
"I told coach right before that play happened that I was going to get a big steal," said James, last season's rookie of the year winner. "And when I came off the court I said, I told you coach, I was going to get it.' A steal is a momentum changer."
. . . Conventional wisdom had it that the loss of the Avalanche in the NHL lockout would be a boon to the drawing power of the Nuggets, especially to their television ratings. So far, it has been the opposite, says the Denver Post.
Ratings for Nuggets games on the new Altitude network are down 39 percent from the same point last season, when Fox Sports Net broadcast the games. Figures from Nielsen Media Research Data show the Nuggets averaged a 1.9 rating through the first 15 broadcasts on Altitude. The first 15 Nuggets games broadcast by FSN last season drew a 3.1 average rating. Each ratings point equals approximately 14,000 metropolitan Denver households.
© 2004 The Washington Post Company