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PREP BASKETBALL James' attorney sues for reinstatement



Published: Sat, February 8, 2003 @ 12:00 a.m.



An Akron judge may overturn OHSAA's ruling to strip the high school player of his eligibility.

AKRON -- King James' next game will in a completely different court.

An attorney for LeBron James will seek a temporary restraining order today from a judge, who could overturn a decision by state officials to banish the 18-year-old basketball star for accepting free sports jerseys from a store.

James, the 6-foot-8 senior from St. Vincent-St. Mary nicknamed "King James", was declared ineligible -- and his team was forced to forfeit a win -- last Friday by Ohio High School Athletic Association commissioner Clair Muscaro for accepting the jerseys worth a combined $845.

James' attorney, Fred Nance, will argue that James did nothing wrong when he accepted two "throwback" jerseys from the owner of a Cleveland clothing store.

"All LeBron did was receive a gift from a friend as congratulations for his academic achievements," Nance said in a 32-page document filed in Summit County Common Pleas Court. "Had LeBron wished to capitalize on his fame, the recompense could be in the millions of dollars."

Judge James Williams set a hearing for this morning. Nance said James, who has since returned the jerseys, would not attend.

The deal

The OHSAA found that the store gave James the Gale Sayers and Wes Unseld trendy jerseys in exchange for posing for pictures to be displayed on its walls.

Muscaro ruled James broke an amateur bylaw "by capitalizing on athletic fame by receiving money or gifts of monetary value."

Nance said in the court filing that James returned the jerseys when he learned the gift was controversial and might threaten his amateur status.

Akron St. Vincent-St. Mary, ranked No. 1 in the latest USA Today rankings, next plays in the Isles Prime Time Shootout in Trenton, N.J., this weekend.

Martin Johnson, president of the nonprofit group that's staging the tournament, said Monday he was optimistic James would be cleared in time to play.

The Fighting Irish have four games left before the state playoffs.

OHSAA spokesman Bob Goldring said if Williams blocks the agency's ruling and grants a restraining order, James can resume playing immediately.

Williams would then hold another hearing within the next 14 days, when he could decide whether to make the injunction permanent or extend the temporary order.

No appeal likely

With James deciding to fight for his reinstatement through legal action, it is unlikely he will appeal his suspension to the athletic association.

Steven Craig, a lawyer for the OHSAA, said, "The commissioner is obligated to interpret and enforce the bylaws as written. That is what he feels he's done in this case and stands by his decision."

Burdon said he's confident Williams will issue the restraining order. The school was initially named a defendant by Nance, but Burdon, an Akron attorney, said St. Vincent-St. Mary will be dropped from the lawsuit.

Nance also asked the judge to reinstate the Jan. 25 win over Buchtel the school had to forfeit.




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