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Monday, November 22, 2004
Writers react to brawl, suspensions

In the words of New York Daily news columnist Mike Lupica, "This was the defining moment of David Stern's long career as NBA commissioner."

This was the punishment Stern handed down in wake of the brawl at the end of Friday night's game between the Detroit Pistons and the Indiana Pacers. In suspending Ron Artest, Stephen Jackson, Jermaine O'Neal, Ben Wallace and others involved in the brawl, the commissioner did what was necessary for the good of the game -- or so say many of the nation's top sports columnists.

The suspensions, especially Artest's, were harsh but warranted, said some. Others called it an ugly depiction of a society in which the fans, specifically Indiana's season ticket holders, are the ones who ultimately will pay. And while there are ways to try to fix the problem, it boils down to a lack of respect in today's sports world, according to Detroit Free Press columnist Mitch Albom.

Check out excerpts from around the country as the NBA world reacts to one of its ugliest moments in league history.

J.A. Adande, The L.A. Times
"The severity of punishments delivered to Ron Artest (out for the rest of the season), Stephen Jackson (30 games) and Jermaine O'Neal (25 games) for their behavior in the brawl near the end of their game at Detroit on Friday night is Stern's way of persuading the ticket-buying masses to come back to a sport that has fallen out of favor.

If his punishment for Latrell Sprewell attacking his coach was suspension for a full calendar year (later reduced to the rest of the season after the players' union appealed), Stern had to show he takes an assault on fans just as seriously.

He knows the league's hurting. He can read the TV ratings. Even worse, he gets the daily news clips, increasingly filled with ill-advised behavior and outrageous quotes from his players. The league's marquee franchise, the Lakers, imploded from an overabundance of egos. One of its brightest stars was just booed at an awards show, and still has to contend with a civil suit stemming from a sexual encounter two summers ago. Now its defending champion was a part of the Friday melee."
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John Cazano, The Oregonian
"Is the league office less guilty than Artest? Are the game officials less culpable than, say, Reggie Miller, who received a one-game suspension? How about those unruly fans? And what about the security staff in Detroit?

Applaud the strict stance commissioner David Stern took with Artest, who probably wanted the rest of the season off anyway. But please know that nobody can accurately, and cleanly, assign blame is a situation that is this messed up.

What happened is too complicated to quantify. It's too far reaching and too layered to fix with a tidy pile of suspensions.

On Sunday, we didn't get justice. We got a start.

The NBA has a problem."
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Ailene Voisin, Sacramento Bee
Ben Wallace (3), Ron Artest (91), others
Keep 'em separated: Coach Rick Carlisle and an official try to keep Ben Wallace (3) and other Pistons away from Ron Artest, right.
"David Stern did the right thing. ... Ron Artest is gone for the season. Stephen Jackson is suspended for 30 games. Jermaine O'Neal is sidelined for 25. Six other players have been disciplined for lesser involvement in the ugliest, most reprehensible incident in NBA history.

Yet, at this point, even lengthy suspensions and impassioned apologies are woefully inadequate. The image of the league has been decimated. NBA players en masse have been staggered by the blows of the few, and fighting back will require a massive public relations undertaking that entails drastic and perhaps even draconian directives.

The league is a victim of its own success. The warmth that existed between the players and their patrons during the halcyon days of Bird, Magic and Dr. J., and persisted until the corporate takeover of the mid-1990s, has been cool for a decade. Now comes the deep freeze."
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Lacy J. Banks, Chicago Sun-Times
"It makes me shiver with both shame and sympathy to think the basketball world could be seeing the beginning of the end of Artest, one of the scariest friends I've ever had.

Some will color him the epitome of infamy. My fear always has been of the harm he could do to others or himself because of his lack of anger management. As a member of the Bulls three years ago, he threatened to go into the stands after a heckler at Conseco Fieldhouse and had to be escorted into the locker room by a team security guard.

I thought Stern acted quickly and justly. A message has to be sent to players who go into the stands. At the same time, I hope some kind of message is sent to abusive fans who provoke such actions by heckling and throwing objects."
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Mike Lupica, NY Daily News
David Stern
"The line is drawn -- and my guess is that it won't happen again," said David Stern after wielding his commissioner hammer after the Pacers-Pistons brawl.
"This was the defining moment of David Stern's long career as NBA commissioner. This was his fight, at a press conference at Madison Square Garden, not just for the image of his sport this time, as important as image is to him, but for its integrity, and its soul. That fight between Indiana players and Detroit fans was more than just a black eye. It was Stern's Black Sox scandal. He tries to bring his sport back from it now, from having people think the NBA has turned into Punkville. It is why he was a great commissioner yesterday, something he has not been in a while.

Anybody can look like a great commissioner with Magic and Michael and Larry Bird. This was something different, an important and powerful and even eloquent statement about the way things are supposed to be in sports, and not what they have become. We see the bar lowered constantly in sports, by everyone. Stern, speaking for his sport and all sports, tried to raise the bar back up yesterday.

"Now the entire league is put on notice," he said.

David Stern has not lived up to his own hype for a long time. He has occasionally looked like a bully, and an imperial king. There have been times in the past when he rolled over, in different ways, for stars like Jordan and Shaquille O'Neal. None of that mattered last night, not even a little bit, because the commissioner of the NBA was a great commissioner when we needed him to be."
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Bill Conlin, Philadelphia Daily News
"Some actually have tried to provide the lamentably dysfunctional Ron Artest with some wiggle room. The guy should be in a straitjacket with the laces tied in double knots. But in some opinions, the Pacers' star was just a guy who went way out of his way to declare peace - after laying a hard foul on Ben Wallace that triggered the sickening chain of violence. Ron was just passively lying on the scorer's table while order was restored. Permit me to confess that in the two-plus decades I covered college basketball on a regular basis, I never saw a player lie down on the scorer's table with or without a riot raging around him. ...

America in general and American sports in particular is in the same state of pampered, luxury-sated decadence as the Roman Empire in its final days of "Look At Us" grandeur. The barbarians at Rome's gates were the Visigoths, the Huns and the other lean and hungry subjects of the Empire.

We have 9/11, bin Laden and the al Qaeda. Our Visigoths and Huns are millions of Islamic fundamentalists and millions more around the rest of the world who hate our wealth and arrogance just a little less than the mullahs of Iraq.

The NBA brawl is just the latest boil to erupt, a big, festering flashpoint that will distract our attention from a much bigger and uglier picture of ourselves."
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Mitch Albom, Detroit Free Press
"And so this morning, like a boxer standing before the mirror after his handlers have gone home, we examine our face to see how badly we are bruised. Black eyes everywhere. On the athletes, on the fans, on the sport and, yes, on our city. There were extra security guards at the Palace of Auburn Hills on Sunday night, but they were as superfluous as an umbrella after a rainstorm. This deed is done. This stain is in the fabric. Players have been suspended for chunks of the season, one for the entire season, and police are investigating everything and everyone. You can rail all you want about "who started what," but in the end, it's all about what people remember. And they will remember this: "Malice at Palace." "Basket-Brawl." "Friday Night Fights." ...

Fact is, respect is what started this in the first place.

Oh, not real respect. Real respect has traces of kindness. Real respect is deferential, like a young apprentice and his patient mentor. Real respect knows, at its core, humility.

I'm talking about the bastardized "respect" in today's sports world -- where the word means nobody does anything to you that you don't like, want, accept or appreciate."
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Michael Wilbon, Washington Post
"Ron Artest wanted some time off to promote his new CD, to try to help his girl group go platinum, and now he's got it. Artest has the month he had asked for, the month after that, the month after that and every month for the rest of this season. For charging into the stands in Detroit on Friday night and turning what could have been only an on-court scuffle into a riot, Artest was hit with a rest-of-the-season suspension by NBA Commissioner David Stern that is not only just but necessary.

Stephen Jackson
It's too bad Stern stopped at 30 games for Artest's Indiana teammate Stephen Jackson, who should have been kicked out for the rest of the season, too. Whatever Artest got, Jackson should have received -- plus one game. Jackson didn't get hit in the face with a cup and he wasn't provoked when he went into the stands. And when Jackson got there, he didn't try to restrain Artest. He didn't seek to make peace or restore order. Jackson went in swinging his fists. Artest, while his defense for going into the stands is weak, at least has one. ...

All Stern has done so far is what he had to do immediately, which is get the aforementioned Pacers away from the court. Even that is problematic for the league's bigger picture. The Eastern Conference, which has been a basketball blight since the Bulls were broken up at the end of the 1998 season, entered the season with only three viable teams: the Pistons, Pacers and Heat. And now the Pacers' season is done.

That doesn't mean, however, that this episode is over. In fact, this is just the beginning. Prosecutors in Michigan continue their work. Fans who were punched, trampled, soaked in beer, and shoved under chairs are scheduling visits with their lawyers. The NBA season is only three weeks old, yet this brawl and all it exposes guarantees the league is headed for one long winter."
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Bob Ryan, Boston Globe
"David Stern now has spoken, and he has spoken with authority. For escalating a bad incident into a textbook riot by entering the stands in pursuit of a fan, Indiana Pacers forward Ron Artest has been suspended for the remainder of the season. Indiana guard Stephen Jackson has been suspended for 30 games. Indiana forward/center Jermaine O'Neal has been suspended for 25 games. Indiana guard Anthony Johnson has been suspended for five games. And Detroit Pistons forward/center Ben Wallace has been suspended for six games. A number of players on both sides have been suspended for one game after violating the league's prohibition on leaving the bench when a fight commences.

The single ugliest incident of its type in the league's 58-year history has been ajudicated. Stern has risen to the occasion.

Stern's legacy was at stake. The sports world was watching, because what happened Friday night in Auburn Hills, Mich., was one of those "There-but-for-the-grace-of-God-go-I" occurrences. Players and fans alike each are acting more and more inappropriately these days. Stern had to send a classic message, and he knew it."
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Stephen A. Smith, Philadelphia Inquirer
"With his league imperiled by the most disgraceful incident in its history, NBA commissioner David Stern stepped up last night and swung his proverbial hammer in vicious but appropriate fashion, pausing only long enough to punctuate each punishment, mercilessly. ... Ron Artest - suspended for the season. Stephen Jackson - suspended for 30 games. Jermaine O'Neal - suspended for 25 games. And that was just the beginning.

Notice that Stern said that his ruling -- enforced unilaterally, he stressed -- involved player misconduct. According to two league sources, in the event of an appeal by the National Basketball Players Association, which you can expect today, it means almost little to nothing because the collective bargaining agreement stipulates that Stern himself will ultimately serve as the arbitrator.

Still, he's absolutely correct.

Such conduct by his players will be severely dealt with. The precedent, he said, has been set.

"Unanimously," Stern said. "It was a vote of 1 to 0. This is totally my decision."

No one should have a problem with that."
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Bob Kravitz, Indianapolis Star
Ron Artest
Ron Artest heads into the stands to take things up with the fans as Pistons-Pacers gets ugly.
"It's fair.

And it's just.

It's the sentence NBA Commissioner David Stern was morally compelled to hand down Sunday if he wanted to salvage the dignity of his league and his game.

How could he have been expected to show leniency here? He simply could not. He had to send a message. He had to make it clear that no matter how badly a player is provoked, he can never, ever, go into the stands. Anything less, and he risked having his league reduced to a circus sideshow."
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Barbara Barker, Newsday
"David Stern did what he had to do yesterday. He handed down the toughest suspensions in the history of the NBA for one of the ugliest moments in the history of the league.

This is a society obsessed with crime and punishment, one that widely cheered the conviction of Scott Peterson after following every twist and turn of his murder case. Americans love to see justice served.

Yet it was hard to feel anything but sadness yesterday when Stern announced the suspensions of nine players, including Ron Artest, for their role in the ugly melee in Auburn Hills, Mich., on Friday night.

There is so much blame to go around right now for what transpired at the Palace of Auburn Hills. The confused-looking security guards, the slow-to-react game officials, Detroit's idiotic and presumably drunken fans. It's too bad Stern can't suspend a few of the furniture-tossing Palace patrons without pay, too."
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Bruce Jenkins, San Francisco Chronicle
"At a time when Ron Artest and his Indiana teammates needed radical and historic punishment for Friday night's riot in Detroit, David Stern produced exactly that in one of his finest moments as NBA commissioner. Now he needs to step back, ignore the hysteria over preventative measures and do nothing beyond the obvious upgrades in arena security.

Artest was lucky he didn't get suspended for life, although his season- ending suspension might force him to consider retirement. He was the catalyst of the Pacers-Pistons brawl and the sole reason it spilled into the stands. This is truly a disturbed individual, a man who needs help. He has a history of bizarre, erratic behavior, including skirmishes involving fans, players and opposing coaches, and just recently came up with the brilliant idea of taking a month off because he was tired from promoting an R&B album.

It's not a single moment that defines Artest. It's his body of work. He's the kind of person who inspires revenge in his opponents and an unhealthy rage in the stands. If you're an enforcer-style player such as Ben Wallace, you've spent the last few seasons thinking, "This man will pay." If you're a drunken spectator, you're yelling something along the lines of "Get the psycho!" Those two elements -- nothing else -- combined to create the most horrifying spectacle in NBA history. ...

Stern can't feel good about essentially wiping out the Pacers, an NBA title contender until Sunday, but he is to be congratulated. For Ron Artest, it's time for treatment -- and a new line of work."
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Peter Schmuck, Baltimore Sun
"In short, the NBA did what it had to do, but in a world where actions have consequences that are both intended and unintended, the suspensions have also served to punish a large group of people who had absolutely nothing to do with what happened at The Palace at Auburn Hills.

Thousands of Indiana Pacers season-ticket holders are now stuck with half a team for a large chunk of the regular season. Artest is gone for the entire season, Stephen Jackson was suspended for 30 games and Jermaine O'Neal was suspended for 25 games. An already injury-riddled team was so depleted Saturday - after Stern indefinitely suspended the three along with Detroit's Ben Wallace pending a final ruling - that Indiana had only six players for a game against the Orlando Magic.

Talk about injustice. Though it likely was a Pistons fan who hurled the beverage at Artest that caused the fight to spread into the bleachers, it will be the Pacers fans (many of whom were peacefully watching the game on television about 300 miles away) who will pay the higher price for one of the most disgraceful episodes in NBA history."
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