NEW YORK -- A 4 1/2 -hour grievance hearing for Washington Bullets forward John Williams at NBA headquarters yesterday only seemed to complicate the issue, as Williams' attorney-agent, Fred Slaughter, asked arbitrator Daniel Collins for more time to respond to a "surprise argument paper" presented by the Bullets.
At issue is the $426,000 withheld from Williams' 1990-91 salary. Williams says team owner Abe Pollin promised Williams' entire $1.2 million salary when he responded to Pollin's personal plea and returned to Washington on Nov. 1, 1990.
But the Bullets, who placed him under medical suspension for weighing more than 300 pounds, agreed to pay Williams for only the 33 games he played last season, docking him for the time he missed for not being in playing condition.
Bullets general manager John Nash would not define the new evidence presented by team management to justify withholding Williams' back pay.
"We presented as evidence a number of letters over the last two years between our attorneys and Mr. Slaughter," Nash said. "We hope that a decision is rendered before the end of this year."
Slaughter, who first filed the grievance in March, said he would present his evidence of rebuttal within seven to 10 days. Slaughter reiterated his original argument that Williams, recuperating from December 1989 knee surgery, orally had been promised all his back pay by Pollin when he returned after missing all of training camp.
"This was not honored," said Slaughter. "The problem is that the Bullets measured his pay for a shorter period: May 1990 to October 1990. But there was a commitment to John to get full pay when he was reinstated."
Any chance of reconciliation seemed out of the question, judging by the tough stances of the opposing parties yesterday.
Nash acknowledged that no words were exchanged with Williams, once considered a cornerstone of the rebuilding Bullets.
Nash said that the 6-foot-9 forward apparently had done little to improve his conditioning since returning to Washington last month, only to face medical suspension again.
"I made my feelings clear back in October," said Nash. "I said I was fearful John was putting his career in jeopardy, and I still feel that way."
Williams greeted reporters before and after the hearing, but did not comment.
Last April, the Bullets offered Williams a chance to regain his suspended pay by meeting a series of weight tests over the summer that ultimately would have had him reach the team's prescribed weight of 260 for training camp in October.
Williams signed the agreement April 18, and passed the first test on the scales in June. But he failed to lose another 4 pounds in July and then didn't take further tests.
Slaughter, who was not present when Williams signed the weight agreement, called it invalid.
"John's knee is rehabilitated," Slaughter said. "There is no reason why he should not now be playing. He played in the Los Angeles Pro League this simmer, and made the all-star team.
"The Bullets' argument about weight is based on what a doctor sitting in his office came up with one day. But this is not in John's contract filed with the league."
Said Nash: "It would be medically irresponsible for us to let John play at his present weight. Not only would his [rehabilitated] knee be at risk, but also his heart and other vital organs."