WELL, THE EVIDENCE keeps pouring in. The NBA is in trouble. The inmates are not only running the asylum, they're running it into the ground.

It's been a banner season for the league. Players voiding trades. Players getting coaches fired. Players attacking coaches. Players attacking players. Players attacking citizens. Players driving drunk. Players speeding and crashing on our streets. Players holding drugs. Players breaking laws. It's a world spinning out of control, and who can stop it?On Wednesday the league took another hit. Latrell Sprewell, the player who choked a coach, was granted a double victory through arbitration. Arbitrator John Feerick reduced the NBA's one-year suspension to seven months, sent him back to the Warriors and restored his contract, worth another $16 million.

So much for the NBA's first (and last?) attempt to make a stand.

"This decision is a victory by Latrell and the other 400 members of our union," boasted player union president Billy Hunter. "It reaffirms the sanctity of guaranteed contracts in the NBA."

Right. And just try to find a guy who played to the end of one. Try to find an owner who forced a player to live up to one. Sanctity? Contracts? What a laugh. What about the sanctity of the morals clause in that contract? What about the sanctity of a coach's right to breathe?

The only thing Wednesday's decision reaffirmed was the power of the players and their union. They haven't lost a case since the league made Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf stand up for the national anthem.

The players are revolting, and they're winning by a rout. The Sprewell decision sent a message Wednesday, and deputy commissioner Russ Granik interpreted it for the brain-impaired: "No matter what you do, the contract can't be terminated."

If choking a coach doesn't get you fired from the league, what does it take? Armed robbery? Spraying an Uzi in the locker room?

"The fundamental point is whether you can strike your boss and still hold your job," said Commissioner David Stern. "The answer is that you cannot strike your boss and still hold your job - unless you play in the NBA and are subject to arbitrator Feerick's decision."

The players and their union have no interest in such matters as right or wrong, only in "the sanctity of contracts." The union would go to bat for Ted Kaczynski if he had one of those sanctified contracts.

The Warriors and the NBA thought they could fire Sprewell on the grounds of Section 16 of the uniform player contract, which states that players must conform to standards of "good citizenship and good moral character" and prohibits "engaging in acts of moral turpitude."

Feerick said Sprewell's two attacks did not constitute an act of moral turpitude. Maybe he didn't understand the turpitude (meaning: depravity, deterioration, evil, sinfulness, vileness). Or maybe choking and threatening to kill a man are just not vile enough. Maybe Sprewell didn't give 110 percent to achieve turpitude. He wasn't putting out, but why start now?

Wednesday's news is just the latest blow to the NBA. Greed, money and power - the usual suspects - have wrought anarchy, and in the process the players are biting the hand that clothes them in Armani.

The NBA is heading for a civil war this summer between owners and players, and this time it's the owners who sound ready to go on strike. The owners want to renegotiate the collective bargaining agreement to bring some sanity and control to the league; the players say no way.

The league is a mess. The war for control has begun.

The players want to protect the sanctity of their contracts and the big money, although only a few of them really get the riches. Some 40 percent of the league's players make NBA minimum wage ($247,500) while others reap $100 million contracts.

Among other things, owners want players to honor contracts and obey league rules - and yet they are part of the problem. If players trample on contracts, owners share the blame by refusing to hold players to them. They have created the monsters. They capitulate when players demand to renegotiate a perfectly good contract for more money. They allow them to kill trades instead of suspending them. They sign players who have walked away from trades and contractual obligations.

It's every man for himself - owners and players.

When Rony Seikaly refused to report to Utah after being traded by Orlando, he wasn't suspended; he was dealt to New Jersey. Kenny Anderson refused to report to Toronto, and Boston took him. Doug West refused to report to Vancouver and wound up in rehab. Damon Stoudamire grumped his way out of Toronto and the final year of his contract when he decided he no longer liked the place and landed in Portland.

Now Sprewell is scheduled to return to the NBA this summer. In the end he will get what he sought all along: a new team, probably a winning team. More than one owner will be willing to trade for him and offer a rich, new contract, one that will probably make up for the money he lost during his suspension. As long as Sprewell doesn't choke with the ball in his hands, he'll have a job.