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All-star basketball guard Latrell Sprewell had his lawsuit against the Golden State Warriors and the NBA resuscitated Friday by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. Sprewell, who was suspended for the remainder of the season after choking former Warriors coach P.J. Carlesimo during a 1997 practice, will have a chance to go to trial on claims that the National Basketball Association violated his rights following the highly publicized incident. “We conclude that to the extent Sprewell’s claims of intentional interference are premised on the NBA’s and Warriors’ alleged violations of California state law, the district court erred in dismissing those claims,” wrote Judge Stephen Trott, in an about-face from an opinion last year upholding Northern District of California Judge Vaughn Walker’s decision to toss the case. Trott was joined by Senior Judges Dorothy Nelson and David Thompson. Also reversed was an order for Sprewell’s lawyers to pay the NBA’s legal fees. The NBA is represented in the case by New York’s Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom. The case was originally thrown out because Sprewell’s state law claims — among others, that the Warriors and the NBA engaged in a negative media campaign that interfered with his ability to sign lucrative endorsement contracts — required an interpretation of the league’s collective bargaining agreement. Since it does, the state law claims were pre-empted by federal law under section 301 of the Labor Management Relations Act. However, this summer the 9th Circuit decided Cramer v. Consolidated Freightways, 01 C.D.O.S. 4945, an en banc decision which held that if a CBA is consulted in the course of litigating state claims, it does not necessarily follow that the claims are pre-empted. And although it upheld the dismissal of Sprewell’s federal racial discrimination claims, the panel unanimously ruled that Sprewell’s state law claims of intentional interference and unfair business practices are back in play. “Any attempt by the NBA and the Warriors to pull Sprewell’s interference claims into the preemptive scope of section 301 by mounting a defense in reliance on the CBA would be fruitless,” Trott wrote. Trott wrote that the NBA is mistaken in its assertion that the media statements can only be “wrongful” if they violated the CBA. “Accordingly, the alleged actions of the NBA and the Warriors, if proven true, would qualify as ‘wrongful conduct’ under California law independent of the rights and responsibilities set forth in the CBA,” Trott wrote. Furthermore, Trott wrote in Sprewell v. Golden State Warriors, 01 C.D.O.S. 8123, the NBA and the Warriors have failed to invoke any section of the CBA waiving Sprewell’s state law rights. Paul Utrecht, a San Francisco solo handling the case for Sprewell in conjunction with two Atlanta lawyers, said he would pursue the case. “Absolutely,” Utrecht said. A lawyer for the NBA did not return a telephone call seeking comment.

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