Union calls decision a significant change

Updated: December 5, 2004, 7:09 PM ET
Associated Press

NEW YORK -- The NBA informed the players' union Sunday it will not seek a temporary restraining order in federal court, clearing the way for a grievance hearing over suspensions for the Pacers-Pistons brawl.

Arbitrator Roger Kaplan will preside over the hearing Thursday and Friday at a Manhattan law office. Suspended players Ron Artest, Jermaine O'Neal and Stephen Jackson are expected to attend. Artest was sidelined for the season, Jackson for 30 games, and O'Neal for 25 for fighting with fans Nov. 19.

The NBA has already filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court challenging Kaplan's authority to hear the grievance, and the league was expected to try Monday to prevent the hearing from going forward.

But in phone calls Sunday between attorneys for the two sides, the league told the union it would not be seeking a restraining order.

"Our position hasn't changed. We've started a proceeding in federal court, and it will remain pending while we see what the arbitrator does," NBA deputy commissioner Russ Granik said.

The union categorized the league's decision as a significant change of course.

"Our goal all along has been to secure a hearing on the merits of the case as soon as possible. Now, the last impediment from that happening has been removed," union spokesman Dan Wasserman said.

Kaplan must rule on two issues: Whether commissioner David Stern's penalties can even be appealed to an arbitrator, and the underlying matter of whether the commissioner had just cause for some of the longest fight-related suspensions in league history.

The league contends the commissioner has sole authority to discipline players for on-court behavior -- and is the only avenue of appeal.

Indiana's Anthony Johnson, who has already served a six-game suspension, also is contesting his punishment.

Granik said that because the league does not want to forfeit its right to possibly challenge Kaplan's eventual ruling in federal court, it will not take part in the first segment of Thursday's hearing to argue whether the arbitrator has jurisdiction.

The second part of the hearing will be the actual grievance itself, and the league's attorneys will argue that Stern's punishments were both fair and consistent with terms of the collective bargaining agreement.

Kaplan will hear arguments on both issues -- jurisdiction and just cause -- before issuing a ruling on either. If he rules against the union on the jurisdictional issue, the second part of the hearing will have been rendered moot.

If he rules in the union's favor on both arguments, the league would take immediate action in federal court, Granik said.

Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press