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Ja Morant Claims Self Defense in Assault Charges When He Punched A Teenager

Ja Morant (Credits: NBA)

Testifying for the first time in a lawsuit roughly one week before his expected return from a 25-game NBA suspension, Grizzlies guard Ja Morant took the stand Monday in Memphis, stating he acted in self-defense when he punched a teenager at his home in July 2022.

During the first day of an immunity hearing at Shelby County Circuit Court, Morant testified that he “swung first” at Joshua Holloway, then 17, “to protect myself” during an altercation. Holloway had filed a lawsuit in September 2022 accusing Morant of assault.

Attorneys representing both sides questioned Morant extensively about the altercation, which occurred during a pickup basketball game at Morant’s Memphis-area home.

Holloway, allegedly frustrated by losing several games, was accused of throwing a one-handed pass at Morant during a check ball situation. The ball hit Morant in the left side of his face, Morant testified.

“You testified that this basketball was a weapon, yes?” Holloway’s attorney, Rebecca Adelman, asked during cross-examination.

“Yes,” Morant replied.

“A lethal weapon?” she asked.

“It hurt,” Morant said.

Morant testified that during the altercation, he asked Holloway, “What you on?” Holloway didn’t reply but instead pulled up his shorts.

“Him pulling up his shorts, where I’m from, that’s a fighting stance,” Morant said.

Morant stated that Holloway took a step toward him, prompting him to step forward and punch Holloway.

“I hit him first — to protect myself,” Morant said.

After that blow, Morant’s close friend Davonte Pack, who was also in court Monday, punched Holloway.

The lawsuit has been moving through the legal system for over a year, and Pack, who admitted during a deposition to hitting Holloway, was arrested in July for misdemeanor assault. The charge against Pack was later dismissed. A trial could begin in April.

In the immunity hearing, expected to last through at least Wednesday, Morant’s lawyers aim to have the case dismissed by arguing he acted in self-defense.

Morant’s father, Tee, testified Monday that his son frequently held pickup games at his house and that the one in question was “highly competitive,” with Morant and Holloway guarding each other and talking trash. Tee Morant is expected to resume testifying Tuesday morning when the hearing continues, presumably addressing questions about the altercation.

Other family members, friends, and witnesses to the altercation are also expected to testify, including Pack and Morant’s mother, Jamie. Subpoenas have been sent to law enforcement officials who investigated the incident.

Morant’s appearance on the witness stand came about a week before he is eligible to return—potentially Dec. 19 at the New Orleans Pelicans—from a 25-game suspension issued by the NBA for conduct deemed detrimental to the league.

The suspension followed a video circulating on social media in May showing Morant brandishing a firearm. He had previously been suspended eight games in March after he was seen on Instagram Live holding a handgun at a Denver nightclub.

In opening arguments Monday, Will Perry, one of Morant’s attorneys, reiterated a point from a court filing Friday: that Morant’s version of events aligns with eyewitness accounts that Holloway, frustrated by losing several games, hit Morant in the face with a basketball, then balled his fists as if to strike, prompting Morant to punch him once.

Morant’s lawyers argue that Holloway’s account has shifted over time and that, under Tennessee’s self-defense immunity statute, if it is found that Morant acted in self-defense, he is immune to the lawsuit and it should be dismissed.

In her opening arguments, Adelman referenced Morant’s off-court troubles and his “propensity for risk-taking behavior,” prompting an objection from Morant’s attorney, calling it “totally inappropriate.” Adelman then focused on the power imbalance between Morant and Holloway.

Ja Morant (Credits: NBA)

“We’re in this court,” she said. “We’re not on a basketball court. In this court, we’re all equal. Nobody’s above the law.”

Adelman showed highlights of Morant dunking to demonstrate the strength of his arm and “the type of force” that impacted her client. She argued that Holloway didn’t throw the ball at Morant menacingly nor did he “square up” with his fists.

Morant testified that when Holloway left his property, he heard him yell, “I’m going to light this place up like a firework show.”

Asked what he thought of that remark, Morant replied, “It sounded like guns to me.”

Attorneys for both sides demonstrated with Morant how a check ball works, using a basketball in court to recreate the incident.

Morant said he had rarely, if ever, been hit with a ball in a check ball situation. Adelman asked if there was time before he punched Holloway to choose another approach, like pushing him or asking him to leave. Morant agreed there was time, stating the altercation lasted about 10 seconds.

Adelman asked if Morant knew whether Holloway was injured, and he said no. She then asked if he would apologize to Holloway if he were in the courtroom.

“Probably not. I was protecting myself,” Morant said.

When not on the witness stand, Morant sat next to Pack, who he testified lives with him and is paid to be his assistant. Morant also said he pays his father to be his chef and barber.

During cross-examination, Morant agreed he is “one of” the faces of the NBA’s next generation, following players like LeBron James, Kevin Durant, and Stephen Curry.

He agreed he wants to be a role model in Memphis and that his conduct affects his brand and reputation. He also acknowledged the extensive media attention he receives and the difficulty of playing pickup basketball outside his home.

“I can’t go nowhere,” he said. “I can’t go grocery shopping.”

Morant’s testimony came days after comments from Grizzlies coach Taylor Jenkins and NBA commissioner Adam Silver about his impending return.

“I’ve got to say, he’s been unbelievable with the process,” Jenkins told reporters Friday. “It’s been a lengthy process, but at every stage and every phase of the return to play and getting the opportunities with his teammates to practice, he’s getting more of those.

In the last couple of sessions, he’s been playing 5-on-5. We’ve got a schedule in the next couple of weeks to get him those opportunities, whether it’s in our practice settings, outside of that, play groups like we talked about. He’s been awesome, I expect him to be full go come Game 26.”

Silver told reporters Saturday he planned to speak to Morant in the coming days, ahead of his planned return to play.

“I have been monitoring the situation closely, and him. In fact, we intend to have a check-in this week directly, Ja and I,” Silver said during his news conference ahead of the NBA in-season tournament championship game in Las Vegas.

“But folks in the league office, together with Ja and his team and the players’ association, have been in regular contact, essentially weekly. There have been those checkpoints.

“We’ve, together, laid out a program for him over the last several weeks, and to the best of my knowledge, he’s complied with everything he’s been asked to do.

As I said, we’ll talk at least once this week before he comes back, and we will review the program and make sure the conditions are in place for him to be successful going forward.”

After Morant left the witness stand Monday, Judge Carol Chumney, who is presiding over the case, remarked, “Go play basketball.”

A smiling Morant replied, “Still got a while.”

Soon after court adjourned for the day, Morant tweeted, “8 days, 4 games” — a nod to the time remaining before his return to the court for the Grizzlies.

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