Thursday , Dec , 23 , 2004 C.Y. Ellis

Judge upholds arbitrator’s ruling on O’Neal

New York, NY (Sports Network) – A federal judge has upheld an arbitrator’s
ruling that reduced the suspension of Indiana Pacers forward Jermaine O’Neal
to 15 games.

The NBA had originally slapped O’Neal with a 25-game penalty for his part in a
November 19 brawl between the Pacers and Pistons. The arbitrator’s ruling and
subsequent court decision will now allow O’Neal to play on Christmas Day when
the Pacers host the Pistons in the first meeting between the teams since the
incident.

Judge George B. Daniels made his ruling after hearing arguments from both the
NBA and the players’ union. He also watched a videotape of the incident,
during which O’Neal punched a fan.

The NBA is apparently still unhappy with the decision, particularly from the
arbitrator — Roger Kaplan. The league said Wednesday that the collective
bargaining agreement between the union and management provides only for the
appeal of any suspension to be heard by commissioner David Stern, who levied
the original penalty.

“While we disagree with the court’s decision today and expect that ultimately
Judge Daniels will find that the arbitrator had no authority in this matter,
we will, of course, abide by the ruling of the court,” said NBA deputy
commissioner Russ Granik. “Since Jermaine O’Neal has already served 15 games
of his suspension, he will be eligible to participate in the Pacers’ games, at
least until the next court hearing date set for December 30.”

Kaplan upheld the league’s suspensions of Indiana’s Ron Artest and two other
Pacer players. Artest, who received the most severe penalty, was suspended the
remainder of the season.

The brawl started late in a seemingly calm game with Indiana in front by 15
points. Detroit’s Ben Wallace was fouled by Artest and the Pistons center took
exception to what he deemed a hard foul and gave Artest a two-handed push to
the face.

After that, the confrontation continued by the scorers’ table as players came
off both benches. The Detroit fans then lost all control and began throwing
cups filled with liquid and ice at Artest, who was laying on top of the
scorer’s table. Artest was hit in the head with a flying cup and immediately
raced into the stands where he started punching whom he thought was the
culprit.

Stephen Jackson followed into the crowd, along with several Pacer players,
and started swinging away at the unruly fans.

O’Neal was also involved in a fight with a fan on his way to the locker room.

After security tried to get the players out of the crowd, the game was called
with 45 seconds remaining. However, the fighting was not over, as Detroit
fans continued to pelt the Pacers as the players were being escorted
into the locker room. The players and coaches were finally able to make it
into the tunnel, but not before all tempers were lost.

Five members of the Pacers and several Detroit fans were criminally charged.
O’Neal was charged with two counts of misdemeanor assault and battery, while
Artest, David Harrison, Anthony Johnson and Jackson were all charged with one
count of assault and battery.

IND