Civil suit filed, Sefolosha returns to New York ‘in a good place’

Thabo Sefolosha returned to New York City Thursday – but this trip he can focus on basketball.

To a certain degree.

The Hawks guard/forward was inactive for the Hawks game against the Knicks. The trip coincides with Sefolosha’s recent decision to file a civil lawsuit against the city, its police department and eight officers involved in his arrest in April in which he suffered a broken right fibula and ligament damage to his ankle. A trial concluded earlier this month acquitting Sefolosha of the three charges related to the arrest outside a Manhattan night club. Sefolosha revealed to ESPN his decision to file the civil suit on Monday. A GQ Magazine article release detailing his experience was released Thursday. In the article Sefolosha said he had many sleepless nights fearing his NBA career could be over.

“Talking with my family, my agent, I decided all this has put my career possibly in jeopardy,” Sefolosha said Thursday outside the Hawks locker room at Madison Square Garden. “In the light of all of this, I think it’s the right thing to do to file a civil lawsuit.”

Sefolosha was ruled out of Thursday’s game for rehabilitation. The Hawks play the Hornets on Friday and it appears, at least for the time being, he won’t play in back-to-back games.

“It’s really tight after games,” Sefolosha said of his ankle. “So I don’t know exactly. We don’t know how it’s going to respond in two or three months. Right now we are taking precautionary steps to make sure I stay healthy and will be able to play (regularly) two or three months from now.”

Sefolosha made his debut in the Hawks season-opener Tuesday. He played 19 minutes and had two points, seven rebounds, four steals and three assists.

Of the distress Sefolosha described in the GQ Magazine article included feeling he let his teammates down, the embarrassment the incident caused his family, the fact he couldn’t go upstairs to put his children to bed and accompanying nightmares.

Sefolosha refused a plea bargain in the case and went to trial, rising a two-year prison sentence. He was acquitted after the jury deliberated for just 45 minutes. He said he his mental state is much improved with the conclusion of the case.

“I’m in a good place,” Sefolosha said. “It’s always good to be back on the court with a group. I was looking forward to the season. I didn’t know if I was going to be able to play. I played a few nights ago and it’s just great to be focusing on that. To be back on the court, it’s a blessing.”

Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer testified on Sefolosha’s behalf at the trial. He too is hoping that player, coach and team can focus on the season.

“It’s something that Thabo has handled very well,” Budenholzer said. “He is someone we feel is of the highest character. I think to come back and have to answer questions and deal with it is something that we all expected. We are more focused on the game to be honest with you and be respectful to Thabo and everything he’s had during his summer and the last couple of weeks. We are focused on the Knicks but we’ll support him as much as possible during all that.”

Sefolosha was in New York City for pre-trial motions when former professional tennis player James Blake was involved in a police brutality incident. He said he was surprised by the incident but not shocked. That was part of Sefolosha’s reason for taking a stand with his civil suit. He said he hopes the awareness brought be the suit will bring positive change.

“I think the police have a tough job and a big responsibility also with the job,” Sefolosha said. “I don’t think it would be fair to knock down the police job or anything like this. At the same time, I think they have to be held accountable and be smart about how to interact with people. Fear is probably a big aspect of their job but at the same time it doesn’t allow them to respond in any kind of way. I think people spoke about training and I think that’s probably a good starting point.”

In the GQ Magazine article, Sefolosha detailed the events of the arrest for the first time.

“One officer pulled me from my right arm, another grabbed me on my left, and another grabbed me on the back of my neck,” he said. “I’m in, like, an on-a-cross type of position. I couldn’t even move. It was just chaos. I had never been arrested before. I understood a little bit late that they were trying to put me on the ground, but if somebody grabs your arms and pulls you on your neck, you fall face first. Somebody kicked my leg, more than once, from the back to force me to the ground. I knew something had happened as soon as they did it; I’m an athlete, so I know how my body should feel. They were stepping on my foot, too, I guess to try to keep me there. I didn’t feel like there was anything I could do to calm it down. I tried to show them I was cooperating. I tried.”

Sefolosha said he was not fearful in returning to New York. He said he had a good meal Wednesday night and enjoyed his time in the city. He said he still thinks about the incident daily but it will not paralyze him. Basketball is again his sanctuary. There are games to be played.