The NBA was dealt another setback Tuesday by arbitrator John Feerick, who ruled he has jurisdiction to hear a grievance filed on behalf of players with guaranteed contracts who are not being paid during the lockout.
Feerick, who reduced Latrell Sprewell's suspension and reinstated his contract last March after a lengthy arbitration hearing, is expected to schedule a hearing for as early as next week.
Formal bargaining talks between the NBA and the union are scheduled to resume Thursday -- the first talks since June 22 -- as the lockout enters its sixth week.
Feerick's latest ruling came five days after lawyers for the league declined to attend the jurisdictional hearing on whether he had the authority to hear the case. The league had indicated, however, that it would appear to contest the grievance if Feerick ruled he has jurisdiction.
On July 30, the league went to federal court and failed to convince a judge to issue a temporary restraining order halting the jurisdictional hearing.
he league gas filed a lwasuit against the union in U.S. District Court claiming that Feerick's term as official arbitrator expired June 30 when the collective bargaining agreement ended. The league also asked the court to rule that it does not have to pay players during a lockout, but the union's response is not due for another 1½ months.
"The important thing is that the NBA owners will not be able to delay this case through the court system, but instead will have to plead their case expeditiously before the arbitrator," union director Billy Hunter said. "The players very much want to get back to playing ball, and we welcome any developments that will speed up the process."
The union filed the grievance on behalf of some 220 players just a few hours before the lockout commenced -- a factor Feerick pointed out in his decision.
The grievance is based on the contention that the NBA and its member teams committean "anticipatory breach of contract" by announcing their intention June 29 that they would not pay monies due under guaranteed contracts.
"I find that I have jurisdiction and that the dispute is arbitrable. In so finding, however, I express no view of the merits of the underlying dispute," Feerick wrote in his two-page ruling.
Kenny Anderson of the Boston Celtics was the first player to miss a paycheck. His contract calls for him to receive his entire salary of $5.8 million on July 1.
Tim Duncan of San Antonio was due to receive 15 percent of his $3.4 million contract last month, and Chris Gatling of New Jersey was due $4 million of his $4.2 million salary.
The NBA declined comment on Feerick's ruling.
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