Court says no malice in report of Sprewell injury

Updated: June 20, 2007, 1:28 AM ET
Associated Press

NEW YORK -- A state appeals court in Manhattan dismissed former basketball star Latrell Sprewell's libel suit against the New York Post over the newspaper's account of how he broke his finger nearly five years ago.

The 5-0 ruling by the state Supreme Court's Appellate Division reversed a lower court ruling that said Sprewell's case could proceed.

Sprewell, who was with the New York Knicks in 2002, sued the Post and reporter Marc Berman that year over articles published Oct. 4, 7 and 8. The articles suggested the 6-foot-5 guard/forward had broken his right little finger in a fight on his boat in a Milwaukee marina in September 2002.

Berman also wrote an article describing the injury and saying that Sprewell, now 36, did not tell the Knicks about it until he arrived at the team's practice facility on Sept. 30, and had not been candid about how the injury occurred.

Sprewell was banished from the team for 16 days and fined $250,000 over the episode.

"We are delighted with the court's decision to dismiss this case and that the judges explicitly cited the quality and thoroughness of Marc Berman's reporting," Post editor Col Allan said.

The appeals judges said Sprewell "is a public figure, [and] he may not recover damages for defamation unless he proves by clear and convincing evidence, that published material is false and was made with 'actual malice.'"

The judges said "actual malice" means the material is published "with knowledge of its falsity or with reckless disregard of whether it was false." They said the evidence must show that the defendants were aware the material was probably false or that they had serious doubts that it was true.

Therefore, the appellate judges said, even if the articles were false, Sprewell's case could not be allowed to proceed. They noted that Berman did not report the information "as incontrovertible fact, but rather cautioned the reader that it was based on two confidential witnesses and was denied by plaintiff."

They also said the record demonstrates that Berman subjectively believed the sources, who gave a partial description of the interior of Sprewell's boat and thus provided additional indication that their accounts were reliable.

The judges noted that Sprewell, through his representatives, denied the accusations of the confidential witnesses, but "his explanation for the injury continuously changed, from he had 'no clue,' to he banged it while 'frantically pulling on a rope' sailing in rough waters, to he 'slipped and fell.'"

Sprewell's publicist, Marvet Britto, was not immediately available for comment.

Sprewell last played for the Minnesota Timberwolves in the 2004-05 NBA season. He turned down a $21 million, three-year contract extension from Minnesota in 2005 and hasn't played professional basketball since. He played 13 seasons and was a four-time All-Star, but he is also known for choking coach P.J. Carlesimo during a Golden State Warriors practice in 1997.


Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press