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Friday, Nov. 26, 2004

SPORTS SCOPE

Blaming Detroit fans for riot outrageous


What a disgrace.

Jack Gallagher

The NBA reached an all-time low with the full-scale brawl between players and fans in the Indiana Pacers-Detroit Pistons game last Friday. That's the way I see it.

Having followed the league avidly as a youngster, worked in it as an executive for several years, and stayed close to it ever since, I can't recall anything remotely approaching the mayhem that broke out.

I must say that I find it amusing that some have tried to blame the Detroit fans for their actions in the immediate aftermath of the incident. What a copout.

This talk about the fans' behavior and how ways have to be devised to keep them under control is a joke. The last thing the NBA needs to do after a debacle like this is to go overboard trying to compensate with some unnecessary measures.

The next thing you know, they are going to appoint a commission to investigate it and make recommendations on how to prevent it from happening again.

Tell me a sporting arena -- anywhere in the world -- where members of the visiting team could go into the stands, attack the home fans and not have them get up in arms?

If that had been a soccer match in Europe or South America, the three Pacers would likely have ended up very seriously injured or dead.

Take it from somebody who knows the game, this whole incident was precipitated by the actions of one person -- Indiana forward Ron Artest.

His cheap shot on Detroit center Ben Wallace was the catalyst for the entire incident. Artest fouls the guy hard while the Pacers are ahead by 15 points on the road, with 45 seconds left in the game. Totally unnecessary.

Wallace knew it was a cheap shot and that is why he went after Artest. Funny how Artest didn't pursue Wallace -- who would have thrashed him -- nearly as enthusiastically as the fan he wrongly singled out in the stands as the culprit.

The guy Artest first assaulted had a drink in his left hand -- and a smile on his face -- when he was attacked.

What set Artest off was somebody hitting him in the face with a cup of ice. That was uncalled for, but it also has to be noted that it wasn't the first time in the NBA that a fan has thrown something at a player.

Artest didn't help matters by laying down on the press table while emotions were still running high. That was disrespectful to the fans and just inviting trouble.

I analyzed the video from the brawl several times. By my account, Artest struck at least three different fans.

He has been suspended five times in the past two seasons -- for various forms of anti-social behavior -- before this fiasco. It is pretty obvious that he has some serious issues he must deal with.

NBA commissioner David Stern took into account the fact that the Pacers would be a totally different team without three of their top players, and thus gave forward Jermaine O'Neal and guard Stephen Jackson lighter penalties for their attacks on fans.

Stern should have suspended all three Pacers for the rest of the season, not just Artest, who got what he deserved. The other two got lucky, in my opinion.

I must say that back in the old days, when the NBA was a man's game, played by adults, this type of scenario just wouldn't have happened.

Why?

Because back before all of these rules were instituted to stop "fighting" between players, scores like this were settled very quickly. If a guy like Artest had pulled that type of stunt on somebody like Maurice Lucas or Wes Unseld, he would have gotten smoked real fast.

That's the difference in the game between then and now. The men settled it like men, but with all of the fines and suspensions being levied for the most minor of incidents over the past 20 years, and more and more immature kids playing in the NBA, it has hurt the game.

Part of the greatness of the league was that teams had players who were "enforcers" that guys on other teams didn't want to mess with. The result could affect the outcome of games, which was precisely the point.

By heavily fining people for pushing and shoving, the NBA has created an environment where somebody like Artest can pull stuff he would never have even tried in a previous era.

Trust me, in the days of yore, if a jerk like Artest had done what he did to a guy as physically imposing as Wallace, this whole fight would have ended with two hits.

Wallace would have hit Artest in the face and Artest would have hit the ground.



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