Behind a curtain of secrecy, an arbitrator began hearing testimony Tuesday in Portland, Ore., on whether the NBA and the Golden State Warriors excessively punished Latrell Sprewell for choking and threatening to kill Coach P.J. Carlesimo.
"I'm happy to be here," Sprewell said as he arrived at the start of the hearing. "Hopefully, this will get over with."
Arbitrator John Feerick, dean of the Fordham Law School, has issued a gag order, barring those involved from revealing testimony.
Sprewell was thrown out of the league for a year, the longest non-drug suspension in NBA history, and the remaining three years of his contract with Golden State, valued at $25 million, were terminated.
In a brief joint statement, the NBA and the players' union said three people testified Tuesday: Warrior assistant coach Bob Staak, Warrior director of athletic development Mark Grabow and Warrior player Muggsy Bogues. The sides also made opening statements before testimony began.
The opening session lasted 10 hours, including a break for lunch. Those who testified were shuttled in and out of a back entrance, away from reporters.
Billy Hunter, the head of the NBA players' union, expressed optimism that the punishment will be reduced.
"There will be some modification, I'm convinced," he said before going into the hearing. ". . . The best outcome would be Sprewell's return, and let us sort of end things where they are."
Hunter said the case is extremely important for players' contractual rights.
"If this becomes a precedent, it means that basically no one has a guaranteed contract," he said. "Everybody becomes vulnerable."
Hunter said the best outcome from the union's perspective would be to have Sprewell reinstated immediately with "maybe a $3 million to $4 million setback."
The Portland sessions are expected to run through Friday, with the hearing reopening next Tuesday and Wednesday in New York, where NBA Commissioner David Stern likely will testify.
Miami Heat Coach Pat Riley and owner Micky Arison joined city and county leaders to break ground on a new 20,000-seat bayfront arena.
The $165-million American Airlines Arena is projected to open in December 1999 on 14 acres downtown along Biscayne Bay.
Meanwhile, the Heat signed guard Rex Walters for the rest of the season. To make room for Walters, the Heat waived former UCLA guard Gerald Madkins, who had not played in a game after signing a 10-day contract Jan. 21.
San Antonio Spur forward Sean Elliott will undergo surgery today to repair a breakdown of the quadriceps tendon in his left leg.
Elliott, put on the injured list last week, will be sidelined for at least two months. He sat out 43 games last season after having an almost identical procedure performed on his right leg.
The Toronto Raptors won't sign swingman Lloyd Daniels, whose second 10-day contract expired Tuesday, for the rest of the season, making him a free agent. Daniels, 30, averaged 5.7 points, 1.2 rebounds and 0.7 assists in six games with the Raptors.