Three men were acquitted yesterday of trying to kill Boston Celtics star Paul Pierce in a nightclub attack two years ago. Two of the defendants were convicted on lesser charges.

William Ragland, 30, Trevor Watson, 35, and Anthony Hurston, 33, were found not guilty of armed assault with intent to murder in the Sept. 25, 2000, attack in Boston's theater district.

Ragland was convicted of assault and battery with a dangerous weapon (a knife), and assault and battery. Watson was found guilty of assault and battery. Hurston was acquitted on all charges.

Pierce, not in court yesterday, couldn't identify any of the three men when he testified during the trial. He was stabbed eight times, hit in the head with a bottle and had a collapsed lung, but managed to play in the 2000-01 NBA season, which began a little more than a month after the attack. An all-star last season, Pierce averaged 26.1 points and helped Boston reach the Eastern Conference finals for the first time in 14 years.

"I'm happy that this has come to an end," Pierce said in a statement. "It was an unfortunate incident for all involved, and I am looking forward to putting it behind me and focusing my attention on the upcoming season." Jurors deliberated over four days before returning the split verdict in a trial marked by a change in testimony from two key prosecution witnesses.

Ragland faces up to 10 years in prison for the assault with a dangerous weapon conviction and another 21/2 years for the assault and battery. Watson faces 21/2 years in prison. Sentencing was scheduled for Friday morning.

"Paul's a good dude. He got us caught up in a situation we had nothing to do with," Hurston said after the verdict was read. "He's a victim as much as us." . . .

Boston Celtics LP said that members of its limited partnership may expect to receive $25 to $35 a unit in the sale of the team to Lake Carnegie LLC.


MLS Players Lose in Court

With their legal battle blocked at the U.S. Supreme Court yesterday, Major League Soccer players plan to form a union in an effort to improve their bargaining power with the owners.

"It's time for the players to move on to the next step: to come together and form a union," said Jeffrey Kessler, an attorney for the soccer players. "We expect that, eventually, the players will get their fair shake."

Eight MLS players filed a class-action lawsuit in federal court in Boston in 1997, arguing that the league's single-entity ownership structure was designed to suppress player salaries. They also claimed MLS conspired with the U.S. Soccer Federation to eliminate competition for the sport's top athletes.

But a judge threw out the former claim and a jury rejected the latter, saying that even without another Division I circuit in this country, the league faced competition from premier leagues in Europe and Latin America, and from minor and indoor leagues in the United States.

Yesterday, the Supreme Court declined to intervene.

"Major League Soccer is pleased that these years of litigation are now behind us," Commissioner Don Garber said. . . .

The MetroStars sold forward Mamadou Diallo to Saudi Arabian club Al Ahli.


Huggins Goes Home

Cincinnati basketball coach Bob Huggins was released from a hospital yesterday, nine days after having a heart attack while on a recruiting trip.

Huggins, 49, plans to be on hand Saturday when the Bearcats open practice, according to university officials.

Tests done at Christ Hospital showed Huggins suffered significant damage to his heart, but his condition is expected to improve with the help of rehabilitation and medication, said his cardiologist, Dean Kereiakes.

Huggins had the heart attack at the Pittsburgh airport on Sept. 28. . . .

Arkansas Athletic Director Frank Broyles, 77, was resting comfortably after being hospitalized at Washington Regional Medical Center with an internal infection. . . .

Georgetown sophomore quarterback Andrew Crawford may be out for the season after injuring his right clavicle on the last play of the Hoyas' 41-10 loss to Fordham on Saturday.

Crawford started two games for the Hoyas, completing 21 of 45 passes for 277 yards and no touchdowns. . . .

Maryland's basketball team has received a oral commitment from power forward Hassan Fofana, a 6-foot-9, 270-pound senior at Hargrave Military Academy in Chatham, Va.

Auto Racing

F1 Looks to Even Field

Formula One is prepared to introduce a handicapping system to "protect the sport" from the dominance of Ferrari and five-time champion Michael Schumacher.

Formula One head Bernie Ecclestone and Max Mosley, president of FIA, the governing body of Formula One racing, are recommending a plan that would force Ferrari to carry extra weight if it builds an early points lead next season.

Ferrari, which declined to comment, has dominated the circuit this season, and Schumacher clinched his fifth world title in July. Only two non-Ferrari drivers have won races this season.

"After what has happened with Ferrari this year, we have to put a cap on it," Ecclestone was quoted as telling the Times of London. "We have to do something to keep the sponsors and the viewers happy.

"If Michael runs away with things in the first two or three races next year, we have to be prepared to do something to protect the sport."

Defendants Anthony Hurston, right, Trevor Watson hug in a Boston courtroom after being acquitted on charges of intent to murder.