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Court says no malice in report of Sprewell injury

NEW YORK -- A state appeals court in Manhattan dismissed
former basketball star Latrell Sprewell's libel suit against the
New York Post over the newspaper's account of how he broke his
finger nearly five years ago.

The 5-0 ruling by the state Supreme Court's Appellate Division
reversed a lower court ruling that said Sprewell's case could
proceed.

Sprewell, who was with the New York Knicks in 2002, sued the
Post and reporter Marc Berman that year over articles published
Oct. 4, 7 and 8. The articles suggested the 6-foot-5 guard/forward
had broken his right little finger in a fight on his boat in a
Milwaukee marina in September 2002.

Berman also wrote an article describing the injury and saying
that Sprewell, now 36, did not tell the Knicks about it until he
arrived at the team's practice facility on Sept. 30, and had not
been candid about how the injury occurred.

Sprewell was banished from the team for 16 days and fined
$250,000 over the episode.

"We are delighted with the court's decision to dismiss this
case and that the judges explicitly cited the quality and
thoroughness of Marc Berman's reporting," Post editor Col Allan
said.

The appeals judges said Sprewell "is a public figure, [and] he
may not recover damages for defamation unless he proves by clear
and convincing evidence, that published material is false and was
made with 'actual malice.'"

The judges said "actual malice" means the material is
published "with knowledge of its falsity or with reckless
disregard of whether it was false." They said the evidence must
show that the defendants were aware the material was probably false
or that they had serious doubts that it was true.

Therefore, the appellate judges said, even if the articles were
false, Sprewell's case could not be allowed to proceed. They noted
that Berman did not report the information "as incontrovertible
fact, but rather cautioned the reader that it was based on two
confidential witnesses and was denied by plaintiff."

They also said the record demonstrates that Berman subjectively
believed the sources, who gave a partial description of the
interior of Sprewell's boat and thus provided additional indication
that their accounts were reliable.

The judges noted that Sprewell, through his representatives,
denied the accusations of the confidential witnesses, but "his
explanation for the injury continuously changed, from he had 'no
clue,' to he banged it while 'frantically pulling on a rope'
sailing in rough waters, to he 'slipped and fell.'"

Sprewell's publicist, Marvet Britto, was not immediately
available for comment.

Sprewell last played for the Minnesota Timberwolves in the
2004-05 NBA season. He turned down a $21 million, three-year
contract extension from Minnesota in 2005 and hasn't played
professional basketball since. He played 13 seasons and was a
four-time All-Star, but he is also known for choking coach P.J.
Carlesimo during a Golden State Warriors practice in 1997.