It's not just the Jail Blazers
The gangsterization of professional basketball in the United States reached a new low tonight, when a game in Detroit between the hometown Pistons and the Indiana Pacers was called off prematurely in an effort to break up a dangerous brawl that had erupted between the Pacers and the Detroit fans.
It started with a blatant dirty foul by Pacer thug Ron Artest on Detroit forward Ben Wallace with less than a minute to play and Indiana comfortably ahead. Wallace charged Artest and slugged him, and the usual collision of pushing and shoving players ensued.
Artest is a jerk who really needs to find another job, but so far, it was just a typical basketball brawl. When he returned to the Indiana bench, however, a fan threw something at him. It looked like two ounces of beer in a plastic cup. It hit him in the chest as he lay on the scorer's table.
And that's where Mr. Artest did something totally, completely, utterly inexcusable.
He ran into the stands and cold-cocked a young guy. Apparently it wasn't the one who threw the cup, because the guy he hit was holding tightly onto his own beverage. When some of the nearby fans got into it, Artest whacked them pretty good, too. Then a few of his less intelligent teammates took it upon themselves to run up into the stands and help settle the score. Their behavior was not self-defense in any meaningful sense of that term. Chairs were eventually thrown. Pepper spray was brandished. People were hurt. At least one person was hospitalized. The game was called off.
Imagine what the young kids in that arena were feeling as they watched this unfold. Imagine me trying to explain this to my four-year-old daughter, who was watching it with me on television. Thanks, NBA, for another night of wholesome family fun.
Every single player who made contact with a fan should be suspended and fined for at least a third of the season. Anyone who actually threw a punch at a fan should sit out the rest of the season. Especially former Trail Blazer Jermaine O'Neal, who ran a good distance to take a serious shot to a fan's jaw (at 7:05 on this video) just as the fan was standing up after taking a punch from Artest. And Artest himself, who has been involved in many an anger control incident on the court over the years, should be banned from the NBA for life.
A two-month suspension would be too good for Artest. In fact, that's what he had the nerve to ask the team for last week -- time off to concentrate on his rap music record label. Looks like he figured out a way to get his leave of absence and blow off a little steam on a couple of little white boys' faces at the same time.
The commentators on ESPN should also get a good, swift kick in the pants. From their lofty perch in New York, they've kept themselves busy all night blaming "the despicable fans" who "provoked the brawl." Not having been there themselves, they speculate that some of the fans who had their lights punched out must have been yelling "racial slurs" at the Indiana players "throughout the night."
Of course some of the fans are at fault. The ones who committed assaults shoud be prosecuted for their crimes. (As should Artest, O'Neal and their teammates.)
But there is no excuse for a professional athlete to punch a spectator.
Ever. Ever, ever, ever.
Shame on the NBA. Shame on ESPN. What an embarassment to our country.
UPDATE, 11/20, 2:55 p.m.: Four players involved in the brawl have been suspended indefinitely, pending some sort of league review.
UPDATE, 11/21, 11:16 p.m.: The suspensions have been announced -- Artest the rest of the season, O'Neal 25 games, Pacer Stephen Jackson 30 games, Ben Wallace 6 games, several others a game or two. To me, it was a little on the light side, but at least the league acted swiftly and decisively.
Now comes the other stuff: the appeals from the players' union, the charges that league management is racist, yada yada yada. But let's hope there are some criminal prosecutions as well, both of fans and players. I saw Jermaine O'Neal commit felonious assault on national TV, and he reportedly also punched out another person off camera in the tunnel to the locker room.
BTW, the video I linked to above has been cut back, and so there's no "7:05" on it any more. But the whole thing can now be seen here.