Latrell Sprewell's $30 million lawsuit against the NBA was dismissed Thursday by a federal judge.
Sprewell, whose one-year suspension for chocking his coach was reduced by an arbitrator, claimed the suspension was racially discriminatory and violated his right to make a living.
U.S. District Judge Vaughn Walker left room for the suit to be revived, giving Sprewell's attorneys 30 days to tie their legal claims more closely to the facts of the case. But Walker said they should seriously consider dropping the matter.
Frank Rothman, a lawyer for the NBA, asked Walker to dismiss the suit permanently and impose a financial penalty on Sprewell's lawyers for a "scurrilous" claim of racial discrimination, which had not been made while the case was in arbitration.
"We have had enough of Mr. Sprewell," Rothman told the judge. "I think he came away from this arbitration very, very fortunate because of the compassion of the arbitrator, more compassion than I would have given him."
Rothman said he thought Sprewell should have been suspended for life.
"He choked his head coach, he threatened to kill him, left bruises and scars," and returned after 20 minutes for a second attack, Rothman said.
The NBA initially suspended Sprewell for a year and allowed the Golden State Warriors to terminate the last three years and $24 million of his contract.
But after a lengthy hearing, arbitrator John Feerick ruled in March that the punishment was excessive, and ordered Sprewell reinstated July 1, cutting his suspension to 68 games.
Sprewell's suit against the NBA and the Warriors claimed that the arbitrator had exceeded his authority by allowing the league and the team to impose separate punishments. The suit also contended he was punished more harshly than white players who had attacked coaches, that the NBA and the Warriors had conspired to cut off his endorsement contracts, and that a ban on attending games during his suspension violated his civil rights.
During the hearing, Walker pressed Sprewell's lawyers for specifics, saying their factual allegations were too vague to prove the violations they claimed.
Asked for examples of discrimination, attorney Robert Thompson said Phoenix Suns forward Tom Chambers, who is white, wasn't suspended for punching the team's strength and conditioning coach a few weeks before the Sprewell incident.
When Walker pointed out that Chambers had not attacked his head coach, Thompson said the two incidents were comparable and added, "Mr. Sprewell would not have received similar treatment if he were white."
Referring to the claim that Sprewell was denied his right to make a living, Walker said, "The NBA isn't the only game in town." But Thompson said the NBA and the Warriors had effectively gotten Sprewell blacklisted from the elite level of the game and its accompanying benefits, like endorsements.
Thompson's assertion that the treatment of Sprewell had a "cilling effect" on other players was greeted skeptically by Walker, who asked who the other players were and what they were chilled from doing.
A player must now fear the consequences "if you didn't toe the line and do exactly what the coach told you to do," Thompson replied. But Walker said he would have to identify other players to proceed with the claim.
Thompson, a lawyer for Sprewell, said he thought the suit could be narrowed and revived, but that no decision had been made yet.
"It depends on how we evaluate it," said Sprewell, who attended the hearing.
Jeffrey Mishkin, the NBA's chief legal officer, said the league was pleased with the decision.
"This is a case that never should have been brought," Mishkin said. "It is entirely baseless."
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