Sports fans have long known that winning and losing aren't always determined by the performance of the competitors. Sometimes the referee jus a crucial call. That's what happened on March 4 when arbitrator John Feerick, dean of Fordham Law School, reduced Latrell Sprewell's punishment for assaulting Golden State Warriors coach P.J. Carlesimo on Dec. 1. In an example of tortured reasoning, Feerick reinstated the final two years of Sprewell's contract, worth $17.3 million, which had been terminated by the Warriors.
He also reduced Sprewell's NBA-imposed suspension from one year to seven months. We've seen more Holmesian legal wisdom displayed on The People's Court.
The law and common sense aren't always traveling companions, of course, but in Feerick's decision they weren't even headed in the same direction. Feerick ruled largely in Sprewell's favor, even though he agreed with the league on several key points, e.g., that, contrary to what Sprewell claimed, the NBA did give him due process and that the coupling of the NBA suspension and Golden State's contract termination wasn't double jeopardy.
So how did Feerick justify reducing die punishment so drastically? He ruled that Sprewell's act showed no premeditation, even though Sprewell choked Carlesimo and then went to the locker room, showered, changed clothes, returned and pushed his way though a crowd of players to attack him a second time. Feerick also declared that the assault didn't violate the moral turpitude clause in the standard NBA contract, in part because Sprewell didn't inflict serious bodily harm, giving new meaning to the term "no blood, no foul."
But commissioner David Stern can hardly play the wronged party. Feerick pointed out that there was no precedent for the severity of the original punishment. While players were head-butting referees and throwing towels in coaches' faces during the last few years, the league seemed more interested in controlling spin than behavior, handing out light suspensions and fines and shrugging off the incidents as the actions of a few bad apples.
So maybe the NBA got what it deserved. You can hardly say the same about Sprewell. Those who agree with Feerick point out that Sprewell will lose $6.4 million in salary, as if money were the crux of die case. The issue was whether a team should be able to fire a player for assaulting his coach. The answer should be yes, but Feerick says no, so that's how it is. You already know that the real world isn't always fair. What makes you think sports are any different?