SBJ/19980525/This Week's Issue

Sprewell's 'totally absurd' lawsuit may have a point

Latrell Sprewell's $30 million lawsuit against the NBA, filed last week, may be eliciting groans from observers weary of the guard's troubling antics, but some wonder if Sprewell's suit doesn't have a point.

While the lawsuit's charge of racism and character defamation may have trouble holding water, its accusation of labor and antitrust violations could be a legitimate issue. Having already been fired from the Golden State Warriors last season for choking and threatening to kill his coach, Sprewell then was suspended by the league and essentially deprived of his livelihood for a year.

"Put aside your feelings for the guy: There were no criminal charges brought against Sprewell, and the NBA took $6.5 million from him," said Randy Vataha, president of GamePlan LLC, a Boston-based investment bank, estimating the salary Sprewell will lose during his nine-month suspension. "As crazy as the Sprewell suit may seem, that amount is pretty severe."

Later, an NBA arbitrator ruled the league's penalty too severe, reduced the suspension to nine months and reinstated him to the Warriors. Sprewell is still property of the Warriors, but there is little chance he will stay with the team, which owes him $17.3 million for the two years left on his contract.

The NBA described Sprewell's claims as "totally absurd." The players union and Sprewell's agent, Arn Tellem, also de-nounced the lawsuit.

One chief legal counsel for a major professional team said Sprewell has no shot at victory because the players' collective-bargaining agreement restricts dispute resolution to arbitration.

Vataha, however, said Sprewell's case was unique, and that by prohibiting teams from hiring the player, the NBA might have violated federal antitrust statutes.

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