Kaplan mum on gist of ruling out in 'couple of days'

Updated: December 21, 2004, 3:58 PM ET
Associated Press

NEW YORK -- Arbitrator Roger Kaplan said Tuesday that he will issue a ruling "in the next couple of days" on an appeal of the brawl-related suspensions given to four members of the Indiana Pacers.

Ron Artest

The case is almost certain to move to federal court if Kaplan rules in favor of the players and orders reductions in some of the longest suspensions ever handed down by NBA commissioner David Stern.

Ron Artest was suspended for the remainder of the season, Stephen Jackson received a 30-game suspension, Jermaine O'Neal 25 and Anthony Johnson six for their roles in a brawl with fans in Auburn Hills, Mich., during a Nov. 19 Pacers-Pistons game.

The union asked for substantial reductions in those penalties during a six-hour arbitration hearing earlier this month. The NBA declined to participate in that hearing, saying Kaplan had no jurisdiction to arbitrate penalties for on-court behavior -- an area in which the league contends the commissioner has sole discretion on penalties.

Kaplan must rule on two issues: Whether he has jurisdiction to hear the case and the merits of the grievance itself -- whether Stern had just cause to issue the lengthy suspensions.

Kaplan declined comment -- aside from disclosing a rough timetable -- in a telephone interview Tuesday.

The NBA already has 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.

Court is closed Friday for a federal holiday, but it doesn't close Thursday until 5 p.m. If Kaplan's ruling were to be issued at noon Thursday, the case could conceivably be before a judge in a matter of hours.

Each of the players testified before Kaplan during the Dec. 9 hearing at a Manhattan law office, 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 player 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.

Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press