2-time All-Star Ja Morant acted in self-defense during pickup game fight, judge says

MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) — Ja Morant acted in self-defense when a teenager accused the two-time NBA All-Star of punching him during a pickup game at the home of the Memphis Grizzlies guard's parents in 2022, a judge has ruled.

Shelby County Court Circuit Judge Carol Chumney cited Tennessee law on when the issue of self-defense can be raised, and she wrote in a ruling issued Monday that Morant “enjoys a presumption of civil immunity."

The judge wrote that “a provocateur generally cannot invoke self-defense; if you start a fight, then you should be ready to finish it” under Tennessee law. She also noted the only provocateur in this situation was the plaintiff, Joshua Holloway, with everyone else just wanting to play basketball.

Mike Miller, a former NBA player who was at the house when the fight occurred, testified that Holloway hitting Morant “in the face with a basketball ‘kind of started everything,’” the judge wrote in the ruling.

Additional evidence backed up that claim, and none contradicted it, the judge wrote.

The lawsuit filed by Holloway accuses Morant of assaulting him during a pickup game on July 26, 2022. Then 17, Holloway had been invited to play at the private full-sized court of the Morant family. Holloway now plays basketball for Samford.

Morant claimed he was defending himself after Holloway aggressively threw the basketball at him with a one-handed, baseball-style pass that hit him in the face during a check-ball situation. A “check” is a common practice in pickup games in which two opposing players pass the ball to each other to see if their teammates are ready, often before starting a game or after a foul.

Now 24, Morant testified during a December hearing that he was worried about getting hurt after the teen bumped him in the chest, balled his fists and got into a fighting stance before Morant punched Holloway.

Morant’s childhood friend, Davonte Pack, also is a defendant in the lawsuit. Pack has acknowledged punching Holloway once and knocking him to the ground. Morant was not charged criminally, but Pack was charged with misdemeanor assault. That charge was later dismissed.

The December hearing centered on Morant’s motion to dismiss the lawsuit under Tennessee’s so-called stand your ground law.

The NBA player’s lawyers argued Morant is immune from liability under the law allowing people who feel threatened at their homes to act with force in certain situations. The law is used in criminal cases, but an earlier ruling by this same judge cleared the way for Morant’s lawyers to apply it in the civil case.

The ruling also noted testimony that Holloway had been allowed inside the Morant home to watch TV, play video games or help himself to food.

Morant tore the labrum in his right shoulder in early January, a season-ending injury that required surgery to a season that started with Morant suspended by the NBA for the first 25 games for a video of the guard flashing a handgun online.

The video showed Morant sitting in the passenger seat of a car and was posted after he finished serving an eight-game suspension in March for another video in which he displayed a handgun in a Denver-area strip club.

Morant apologized for both videos.