"A federal judge ruled Thursday that Indiana All-Star Jermaine O'Neal does not have to serve the final 10 games of his suspension for fighting with fans at the end of the Pacers-Pistons game last month. The ruling makes permanent the temporary decision U.S. District Judge George B. Daniels made last week, which allowed O'Neal to return to action even though he had not served all of the 25-game suspension imposed by NBA commissioner David Stern."Never mind that David Stern's suspension of Jermaine O'Neal was too harsh relative to the corresponding punishments Ron Artest and Stephen Jackson received. It was. This is a bad precedent for the NBA.
We now know that the commissioner's ruling on suspensions is not binding with respect to any misconduct in the stands (as opposed to on the court of play, a dubious distinction if you ask me):
League lawyer Jeffrey Mishkin argued that the fight with fans was on-court behavior, especially when players were "wearing an NBA uniform on national television."Pro sports players' unions are often so relentless in their battles with the owners or league commissioners that they take counterproductive steps. (For example, the MLBPA's refusal to allow meaningful steroid testing has ruined the players' credibility with the fans.)
Union attorney Jeffrey Kessler argued that it was not.
"Fighting with or striking a fan has never been characterized as conduct on the playing court," Daniels said, reading from a written ruling. "Striking a fan is inexcusable, and appropriately considered something different and much more serious."
Kessler called the ruling "a very clear precedent."
"Anything with a fan is going to be arbitratable," he said.
This is just another example of that. The November 19 brawl in Detroit was the worst event in recent NBA history, the kind of thing that can leave permanent damage on the game's reputation. David Stern's suspensions, though not perfectly balanced, sent a clear message that this kind of activity will not be tolerated—ever.
Now, thanks to union lawyers and a sympathetic judge, we know that it might be tolerated, depending on how far away from the hardwood you are when you sock a fan. Great.