Miles Bridges and the State of Domestic Violence Proceedings in the NBA
In what has become a common trend across several American sports leagues, the National Basketball Association (“NBA”) once again finds itself amidst a domestic violence investigation.  The current issue involves Miles Bridges, a forward for the Charlotte Hornets and one of the league’s top young players.  Bridges faces three felony counts of domestic violence, to each of which he has pled not guilty.  The charges against Bridges, initially reported by multiple sources in late June, come less than a year after similar allegations were made against New Orleans Pelicans center Jaxson Hayes.  After a heated dispute with his then-girlfriend allegedly turned violent, Hayes was arrested by the Los Angeles Police Department and charged with multiple counts of domestic violence.  Hayes’ case ultimately culminated in his conviction of 12 misdemeanor charges, including two counts of domestic battery, decided half-way through the 2021-22 NBA season.  Hayes has yet to be sanctioned by the NBA, now almost eight months since the legal process ended. With Bridges’ case possibly heading to trial in the coming months, the NBA is left with another opportunity. 
Though the National Football League (“NFL”) may have more experience handling domestic violence-related incidents, the NBA is certainly no stranger to the issue over the last 20 years. Below is a brief, non-exhaustive list of domestic violence incidents involving then-current NBA players:
(2x) Misdemeanor, Domestic Battery
No contest plea; Three-year probation, community service, one-year domestic violence program
Charges dropped; Agreement to attend diversion program
Misdemeanor, Domestic Battery
Guilty plea; 20-day jail sentence; three-year probation
Misdemeanor, Domestic Violence Assault
Guilty plea; 18-month probation, 26-week domestic violence program
Misdemeanor, Domestic Violence
Misdemeanor, Domestic Violence
No contest plea; 10-day jail sentence (work release), community service
Misdemeanor, Domestic Violence
Convicted; One-year probation
Misdemeanor, Domestic Battery & Assault
Convicted; One-year probation, anger management training
Felony, Domestic Assault
Misdemeanor, Spousal Abuse
Guilty plea; $200 fine and anger management training
Apart from the aforementioned cases, many players throughout the years, including Sacramento Kings center Richaun Holmes and Cleveland Cavaliers guard Rajon Rondo this past season, faced accusations of domestic violence later proven to be false.  Because of this, the league consistently employs a “wait and see” strategy, providing an explanation as to why the status of Bridges’ punishment remains undetermined. Putting this aside, the young Hornets star faces charges that are more severe than any of those listed above. If convicted for all three felony counts, Bridges could face a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison.  Since the case will most likely extend deep into the 2022-23 NBA season, there is not much the league can do now besides collect information and let the case proceed through the legal system.
The 2017 NBA Collective Bargaining Agreement (“CBA”) implemented new league policies for the administration of player punishments for criminal offenses. Teams cannot punish players for merely being arrested but may penalize them for the underlying events of their arrests, provided that the team can establish an “independent basis for doing so.”  As a result, most, if not all, of the punishment power rests within the league office. Following a league investigation, the Commissioner “may fine, suspend, or dismiss and disqualify from any further association with the NBA and its teams a player who engages in prohibited conduct in violation of [league policy].” 
Player investigations into criminal offenses are led by a three-member committee, selected jointly by the NBA and the National Basketball Players Association (“NBPA”), with no provided timeline.  Laid out in Exhibit F of the CBA, the “Joint NBA/NBPA Policy on Domestic Violence, Sexual Assault, and Child Abuse” states that, “[w]hile an investigation is pending, the Commissioner may at any time place the player on administrative leave with pay for a reasonable period of time.”  However, if the Commissioner were to later impose a suspension, any time that the player spent on administrative leave would be credited toward the suspension, so long as the player also “remits to the League the applicable portion of salary that [he] received while on . . . leave.”  For example, if the NBA’s current Commissioner, Adam Silver, places Bridges on leave today and later suspends him in February for one year, the five months between will count towards the term, essentially making it a seven-month suspension.
So, what happens now? Bridges’ preliminary hearing is currently scheduled for September 16, 2022, when the league will hear for sure whether his case will officially go to trial.  Until the legal proceedings end, Bridges will most likely remain a Restricted Free Agent (“RFA”) via the Qualifying Offer (“QO”) extended to him by the Hornets.  The QO represents a one-year, guaranteed contract with the Hornets, which becomes a regular contract if Bridges signs it.  Unless extended by the team to the final deadline of March 1, 2023 (which rarely happens), the offer will expire on October 1, 2022.  Until the QO’s official termination date has been reached, the Hornets cannot withdraw the offer without Bridges’ consent.  Should Bridges not sign the QO before its termination, he will remain a RFA through next off-season or until a new contract is signed.  The route Bridges takes will certainly play a monumental role in Commissioner Silver’s decision-making as Bridges’ case progresses. However, Commissioner Silver’s decision will undoubtedly impact the NBA’s domestic violence policies for years to come.
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