Even if the legal system passes over the Blake Griffin incident, NBA can have a say
The consequences for Blake Griffin’s punching Clippers assistant equipment manager Matias Testi last weekend could extend beyond the star forward’s broken right hand.
But don’t expect the altercation at a Toronto restaurant to be reviewed in a courtroom.
Though the NBA plans to interview Griffin as part of an inquiry that could lead to a suspension, the Toronto Police Service isn’t investigating. The department doesn’t have any record of the incident or of officers responding to it.
“It is highly possible that officers were in the area walking by,” Constable Jenifferjit Sidhu, a department spokeswoman, said by email Wednesday. “If, however, no one says there is an issue or complaint [or] problem and it looks like everything is in order, the police would leave and not put in a report.”
Legal experts don’t think criminal charges will be filed. They expressed surprise at the national attention the scuffle attracted and believe it’s in the best interest of the two men to resolve the matter privately.
“The most likely outcome is that there are no criminal charges,” said Michael McCann, a sports law professor at the University of New Hampshire. “Any potential civil litigation would be settled out of court confidentially, without exposure to the media. It makes a lot of sense for everyone involved to resolve this dispute privately, not publicly. That’s the sensible path.”
It’s not legally necessary for the alleged victim to come forward, but Kent Roach, a law professor at the University of Toronto, said that may be necessary in certain cases as a practical matter.
There’s always the possibility of a civil lawsuit, but Scott Andresen, a sports and entertainment lawyer in Chicago who teaches at Northwestern University, noted that Griffin and Testi appeared to be friends before the punches were thrown in Toronto.
“Even if whatever happened had friendship-ending fallout of some sort, I still don’t think it gets into the court system,” Andresen said. “While I’m sure there are lots of lawyers who would love to run into court and file this lawsuit, at the end of the day it’s in everybody’s interest to resolve it.”
The league is in no hurry to announce a potential fine or suspension for Griffin. In recent investigations involving altercations, the NBA has sometimes taken months, not weeks, to make decisions. NBA Commissioner Adam Silver has broad authority to rule, though the players’ association can appeal his decision.
Last month, the league suspended Memphis Grizzlies forward Matt Barnes for two games after an investigation that spanned 2 1/2 months. Barnes fought New York Knicks Coach Derek Fisher last October because he was dating Barnes’ ex-wife.
In December, the Philadelphia 76ers suspended center Jahlil Okafor for two games after a video showed a fight in Boston that he hadn’t revealed to the team.
The NBA took almost two months to suspend Charlotte Hornets forward Jeff Taylor for 24 games after an altercation with a woman in 2014. Taylor pleaded guilty to misdemeanor domestic violence and malicious destruction of hotel property after the incident in East Lansing, Mich., and was sentenced to 18 months of probation.
In addition to Griffin, the league will seek to interview Testi and Clippers players or staff who witnessed the altercation. The league will also try to find video footage of the fight, which started inside the restaurant and continued outside, and consult with the Toronto Police Service to get further information.
“Usually after the passion wears off, it’s ‘Oh, man, I’m sorry’ and ‘I’m sorry, too,’” Andresen said.
That could be enough to keep the altercation from being replayed in court; it might not be enough to escape punishment by the NBA.
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