A federal judge ruled yesterday in New York 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 US 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.
The league went to court after arbitrator Roger Kaplan said O'Neal's penalty should be cut to 15 games, citing the player's "character, community involvement, and citizenship."
The NBA challenged Kaplan's authority to hear an appeal of Stern's punishment.
Before rendering his decision, Daniels and lawyers for both sides portrayed the fight during the Nov. 19 game between Indiana and Detroit as unprecedented.
Daniels said he did not believe the players' union or the league had imagined a scenario like the brawl when they created player contracts over the years.
"I don't think they expected a riot or a melee to occur," he said. "It's clear to me nobody expected something like this to happen at a basketball game."
Hours of legal arguments the last two weeks focused on whether the brawl could be considered on-court or off-court behavior. Language in player contracts seemed to indicate on-court behavior is punishable by the league commissioner and cannot be appealed to an arbitrator.
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."
Pacers 96, Nets 83 -- Hours after the judge's ruling, O'Neal scored 31 points to lead Indiana over New Jersey in East Rutherford, N.J.
Jeff Foster added 16 points and a season-high 16 rebounds and Austin Croshere had 17 points off the bench as the Pacers won their third straight game, matching their longest streak since the brawl in Detroit.
Spurs 114, Trail Blazers 80 -- Tim Duncan had 19 points and nine rebounds and Tony Parker added 18 points, leading San Antonio over host Portland.
Darius Miles had 17 points for the Blazers in their most lopsided loss of the season. Parker scored 15 in the first half as the Spurs won their fourth straight and seventh in eight games.
SuperSonics 94, Hawks 79 -- Ray Allen scored 20 points and Rashard Lewis added 17 as Seattle overcame the ejections of Jerome James and Danny Fortson to win in Atlanta.Official Bob Delaney ejected James after giving the center his first technical foul with 7:14 left in the third quarter.
James, called for an offensive foul, appeared to use an expletive as he looked down at Delaney. Fortson was ejected in the fourth quarter for complaining about a foul.
Heat 89, Pistons 78 -- Dwyane Wade's first NBA triple-double kept Miami's winning streak alive.
Wade had 31 points, 10 assists, and 10 rebounds to lead the Heat past Detroit in Auburn Hills, Mich., to extend their franchise-record winning streak to 13 games.