Nearly eight years ago, while playing for the Indiana Pacers, Ron Artest was handed the longest suspension in NBA history for his part in the “Malice in the Palace” brawl between the Pacers and the Detroit Pistons. As a result of that suspension, Artest missed a total of 86 games. Yesterday, Artest who recently changed his name to Metta World Peace, was ejected from the game between the Los Angeles Lakers and Oklahoma City Thunder, after elbowing the Thunders’ James Harden in the face. World Peace’s actions yesterday clearly give rise to a suspension. The real question, however, is how long he will be suspended, and what action he can take if the suspension is lengthy.
The NBA’s constitution grants NBA commissioner David Stern the right to assess fines or suspensions for a variety of reasons, including “conduct on the playing court” and “action taken. . . concerning the preservation of the integrity of. . . the game of basketball.” Stern can issue fines or suspensions without much recourse by teams, players or the NBPA, so long as the fine is less than $50,000.00 and the suspension is for less than 12 games. This is because, appeals to punishments of less than $50,000.00 or 12 games are heard by Stern. Clearly, Stern has little reason to overturn his own sanctions. As such, a player fined less than $50,000.00 or hit with a suspension of less than 12 games can plan on paying the fine or serving the suspension.
However, if and when Stern issues penalties above these thresholds, teams, players and the NBPA may file a grievance. This grievance is not heard by Stern, but rather, by the NBA and NBPA’s grievance arbitrator. In a sense, this is beneficial to the player or team opposing the NBA’s sanctions, as they are able to tell their side of the story to an unbiased third-party. The hope for the player and team in doing this, is that the grievance arbitrator will completely do away with the punishment imposed by Stern, or severely decrease it.
In order to bring a grievance, several procedural items must be followed. First, the grievance must be discussed with the party against whom the grievance is being brought against. This is required with the hope that the parties will be able to settle their dispute before taking it to the arbitrator. While in some cases this preliminary conversation may lead to a settlement of the dispute, it is again unlikely that Stern would change course and reduce his sanctions.
If the parties are unsuccessful in settling their dispute, then the team, player or NBPA may file written notice of the grievance with the NBPA. At this point, the portion of the player’s salary that he is losing due to a suspension, or the amount of his fine, is placed in an interest-bearing account until the conclusion of the grievance process. Ultimately, the parties meet at either the NBA or NBPA’s offices in New York City and the grievance arbitrator hears each side’s case. Thereafter, a ruling is issued and the player’s fine or suspension is either upheld, modified or thrown out.
While no player wishes for a high fine or lengthy suspension, the benefit of either is that he receives the opportunity to present his case to a neutral third-party. In this instance, World Peace maintains that his elbowing of Harden’s face was unintentional. However, the game’s referees, the public at-large and numerous sports pundits seem to think otherwise. Given World Peace’s history, along with a general outcry against contact in sports which may cause concussions, it is possible that Stern may levy a hefty punishment against World Peace. If such action is taken, expect World Peace, the Lakers and/or the NBPA to challenge the sanction through the process outlined above.