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Union appeals suspensions for Artest, O'Neal, Jackson

November 23, 2004

NEW YORK (AP) - The NBA players' union filed an appeal Tuesday on behalf of Indiana Pacers Ron Artest, Stephen Jackson and Jermaine O'Neal, who were suspended for their roles in a brawl with Detroit Pistons fans last week.

The union asked that an arbitrator decide whether there should be reductions in the suspensions handed out Sunday: Artest was banned for the season, Jackson for 30 games and O'Neal for 25.

Union director Billy Hunter has called the penalties excessive, saying a suspension of about 35 games would have been more appropriate for Artest.

Commissioner David Stern, who issued the suspensions, has sole discretion under collective bargaining rules over penalties for on-court behavior, and all appeals go through him, too.

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The union, however, asked in its one-page appeal that the case go to arbitrator Roger Kaplan.

"The action taken by the commissioner sets a new high-water mark in terms of the kind of discipline he feels he can impose," Hunter said in a telephone interview. "I think he has exceeded his authority and should be subject to review and challenge.

Stern would normally have 20 days to rule on an appeal of an on-court discipline matter, and it was unclear whether the union's appeal strategy would put this case under that timetable.

An NBA spokesman said the appeal was received but that the league would have no other immediate comment.

"I think David Stern is trying his best to preserve the integrity of the game and his industry, but due process must be honored, and all the mitigating factors must be included on a final decision," said Jesse Jackson, who said he spoke with Stern by telephone on Monday.

In other developments:

- Two fans sued the Pacers and Artest, Jackson and O'Neal, contending they were injured in the fracas at the end of Friday night's game at Detroit. John Ackerman, 67, says he was hit by O'Neal and then knocked unconscious by a thrown chair. William Paulson, 26, says Artest and Jackson assaulted him.

- Police released a videotape and asked the public's help in identifying a man who investigators believe hurled the chair into the crowd during the brawl. Oakland County prosecutor David Gorcyca has said the only possible felony charge in the brawl could be against the chair-thrower. He said other charges most likely would be for misdemeanor assault and battery.

- Artest appeared on NBC's "Today," saying he respected Stern but thought his punishment was unduly harsh. He used the opportunity to plug a CD he produced for an R&B group and wore a T-shirt and hat emblazoned with the logo of his record label.

The players' union was contemplating taking its case to federal court. A similar strategy failed in 1997 when the union contested the suspensions handed out to four members of the New York Knicks for leaving the bench during a fight in a playoff game against the Miami Heat.

In that case, U.S. District Judge Jed S. Rakoff cited article XXXI, section 8 of the league's collective bargaining agreement establishing the commissioner as the complete and final authority on discipline for what happens on the court.

The language, the judge said, is "so plain, so clear, so unequivocal, so on-point to the dispute that underlies this controversy."

"In that case we were seeking an injunction. We may not pursue an injunction if we pursue this in federal court," Hunter said, adding the the union will argue that since some of the punishable behavior happened in the stands, it should not fall under the definition of "on-court behavior."

"We think the court is limited to the court itself, the 90-by-50 piece of hardwood, and the benches," Hunter said.

In 1998, the union successfully appealed the one-year suspension Stern gave to Latrell Sprewell, then with the Golden State Warriors, for attacking coach P.J. Carlesimo at practice. It was reduced by an arbitrator to 68 games.

The difference between Sprewell's case and the current one is that Sprewell's attack on Carlesimo happened at practice, so it was not considered on-court behavior and was subject to the arbitration provisions of the collective bargaining agreement.

The suspensions also could be contested by the Pacers, who have the right under NBA bylaws to appeal the commissioner's decision to the league's Board of Governors.

No NBA team has ever made such an appeal, according to the league.

Pacers spokesman David Benner said the team had not yet decided if or how it might contest the penalties.

Artest bolted into the stands after being hit by a cup thrown by a fan, touching off a brawl in which players exchanged punches with fans, who also threw drinks, popcorn, and other debris at the Pacers.

"This is the third time that I've been hit with something out of the crowd," said Artest, who claimed he had been struck previously in Detroit and in Cleveland.

Jackson also went into the stands and exchanged punches with fans, while O'Neal hit a fan who ran onto the court.

The Detroit fan who authorities say threw the cup that hit Artest described the player as a "thug." John Green, a 39-year-old contractor, made the comments during an appearance on ABC's "Good Morning America."

The union's appeal also contests the brawl-related suspensions of Ben Wallace (six games) Anthony Johnson (five games), Reggie Miller, Chauncey Billups, Elden Campbell and Derrick Coleman (one game each).

The four players who received one-game suspensions were penalized for leaving the bench area during the initial confrontation between Artest and Wallace.

"In their cases, there was such peandemonium it was only a natural reaction. Some of them were moving out of fear," Hunter said. "We want to review them all."

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