Dispatches from the Creation Wars

The Pistons-Pacers Brawl

Okay, since I’m a basketball fan, I gotta weigh in on this. I’m sure by now everyone has seen the footage of what happened after the Pistons/Pacers game on Friday night, as Pacers players went up into the stands after fans who were pelting them with beers and bottles and chairs. The NBA has just announced the punishments for the players involved: Ron Artest suspended for the entire year, Stephen Jackson for 30 games, Jermaine O’Neal for 25 games, Ben Wallace for 6 games, and Anthony Johnson for 5 games. Elden Campbell, Derrick Coleman, Chauncey Billups and Reggie Miller have been suspended for one game each. I think the NBA is making a mistake here, and I’m afraid that these suspensions will only make such incidents more likely in the future.

The NBA is obviously trying to send a very strong message to the players that no matter what happens, you never, ever, go into the stands and attack the fans. And that’s certainly understandable. This is a black eye on the entire league and they don’t want to appear to be unconcerned about its seriousness. But I think they’re making a mistake on two levels. First, it’s just not realistic. I honestly do not blame Artest at all for going after the fan who threw a beer on him. If someone came to your office an threw a beer on you, you’d probably react violently too, and most people would say you are justified in doing so. The blame lies not with the person who reacts, but with the person who committed the initial assault, in this case the fan. Artest was not doing anything to provoke the assault. In fact, he was lying down and not a threat to anyone at all. The Oakland County Prosecutor’s office is determining who will be charged with what, and I certainly hope that any and all fans who can be identified as throwing anything at the players will be prosecuted for assault, disorderly conduct, and any other charge they can legitimately make stick.

Second, I think such severe penalties may actually encourage more of this sort of thing. Why? Because think about what happened here. The Pacers are probably the Pistons’ biggest rivals for the Eastern Conference championship and a berth in the NBA finals. Whether they intended to do so or not, those Detroit fans who threw beer on the Indiana players and provoked their responses managed to pretty much destroy the Pacers’ season. The Pacers lost two all-star players in O’Neal and Artest, one for the entire season and one for almost half of it, and lost another starting player for nearly half the season. Does this not encourage fans to do more of this in the future, especially when rival teams come into hostile arenas? The only hope of stopping that is for the police to come down very, very hard on the fans they can identify. No fan is going to spend 6 months in jail to help their team. But if a few fans end up getting nothing but probation or a small fine, there will almost certainly be more of this.

Having said that, I think there also needs to be criminal penalties filed at least against Artest and O’Neal because they each assaulted fans who had not assaulted them first in the middle of the melee. While I don’t blame them for going after someone who throws a beer, there was one fan who came out on the court, having not done anything wrong at all, and Artest punched him and knocked him down, unprovoked, in the heat of the situation. To make things even worse, Jermaine O’Neal ran over from 15 feet away and hit the same guy on a dead run when he was trying to get up. For that, they deserve to be charged with assault as well.

But I still maintain that the real blame for this has to go to those fans who crossed the line. And the fact is that if you decide to throw a beer on a 6’7″, 245# guy that you know has a bad temper, you fully deserve to have your ass beaten, if for no other reason than for being an unbelievable moron.

Comments

  1. #1 Matthew Phillips
    November 21, 2004

    It’s being widely reported, to the point of it being close to a known-fact, that the person Artest attacked in the stands was not the person who threw the drink. He was just a guy who was laughing about it.

    In 1999 (i think that’s the year), the NBA suspended Latrell Sprewell an entire season for choking his coach. I think this is a comparable offense. Artest went into the stands and attacked a paying customer that hadn’t done anything other than laugh at him.

  2. #2 raj
    November 22, 2004

    I don’t pay much attention to professional sports, but I believe similar things go on in some baseball parks–fans in the outfield stands pelting outfielders with various things. They are usually too far away from the players to do much damage, though, but I gather it can be a bit annoying. One thing that could be done in a situation like this (basketball) is, if the fans get too rowdy, allow the officials to declare that the home team forfeits the game. That would probably put a stop to it.

  3. #3 ~DS~
    November 22, 2004

    If a customer half my size came to my office and threw a beer on me, and my cowokers and I jumped over my desk and cold cocked him a couple of times, we’d be fired on the spot.

  4. #4 Ed Brayton
    November 22, 2004

    It’s being widely reported, to the point of it being close to a known-fact, that the person Artest attacked in the stands was not the person who threw the drink. He was just a guy who was laughing about it.

    That is true, when he fired up off the table and ran into the stands, the guy he ended up hitting was not the guy who threw the beer. The guy in the tan hat was the one who threw the beer, according to Jim Gray, who was standing right there when it all went down. But in a blind rage, and probably with beer in one’s eyes, that’s hardly surprising. I’m not excusing Artest entirely; he absolutely has to be punished. I’m just saying that the real fault lies with the fan who threw the beer on him, and that anyone who thinks that that sort of behavior should not result in retaliation is living in a fantasy land. In the real world, 99 times out of 100, if you throw a beer on someone, you’re going to get your ass kicked and you deserve to get your ass kicked. Call it immediate karma if you want.

  5. #5 Ed Brayton
    November 22, 2004

    raj wrote:

    One thing that could be done in a situation like this (basketball) is, if the fans get too rowdy, allow the officials to declare that the home team forfeits the game. That would probably put a stop to it.

    It might. Or, it might also encourage more of it, but by one team’s fans masquerading as another team’s fans. But in general, I would agree with you. I’m a little surprised that the NBA didn’t hit the Pistons organization with a fine or some sort of punishment, which is really the closest the NBA can come to punishing the fans who did it (the police can go further, of course).

  6. #6 Ed Brayton
    November 22, 2004

    DS wrote:

    If a customer half my size came to my office and threw a beer on me, and my cowokers and I jumped over my desk and cold cocked him a couple of times, we’d be fired on the spot.

    How about if it was a customer the same size as you, or bigger than you? How about if it was a whole group of customers, one of whom threw a beer on you and then, when you reacted by going after him, the rest of them started throwing beers at you too? My point here is this: the real blame for all of this has to lie with the fan who threw the beer. Artest is a human being and he reacted the way virtually every other human being would react, by trying to beat up the guy who did it. We can talk all we want about the boundaries between fans and athletes, but that boundary was violated by the fan.

    What I object to are the arguments I’m hearing a lot from people that somehow because Artest is a millionaire athlete, a different set of rules applies to him than it does to everyone else, that he’s somehow supposed to keep his cool in such a situation better than a truck driver or an investment counselor. And I’m guessing that what is going to happen here is that the guy who is actually responsible for what happened is going to end up getting a $250 fine and probation for disorderly conduct, while the guy who responded the way anyone else would have responded ends up forfeiting millions of dollars. There’s no justice in that, in my view. And if the police don’t come down very, very hard on the guy who started it (how about he stays in jail until Artest’s suspension is over?), we’re going to see more of it. Because it will be open season on athletes on the other team in arenas around the country.

  7. #7 ~DS~
    November 22, 2004

    Ed I agree with you that the fan is a complete and utter moron for assaulting a pro ball player.

    I don’t know the law well, but I think you’re only allowed to counter an assualt with an roughly equal response unless you fear for your life.
    No analogy is perfect but consider this from the business standpoint you mentioned, I’m telling you hands down, if a little bitty guy half my size came into my office and threw a cup of beer on me, and my coworkers and I jumped over our desks and went rampaging through anyone in reach indiscriminately knocking other customers on their ass and started cold cocking people; we’d be gone. Instantly. No discussion. No fines. No suspension. And if someone had videotaped it and that video made so much as the local rinky-dink evening news, my manager would probably be fired as well.

    Now an office environment is different than a court. But if you had been up on stage doing some comedy one night, say in front of an audience in which you were the biggest meanest guy in the place, and a heckler hit you with a cup of beer, and you came flying off that stage in a blind rage, ripped through a couple of tables sending other patrons flying and ended up cold cocking a guy or two who didn’t even throw the beer, and had to be dragged off still swinging, would you expect to ever work in that club again?

    The only reason this guy hasn’t been fired is because he’s a ball player. If it had been a junior peon trainor that got hit with a cup of beer form the stands, and he and his trainor pals went wading through the crowd with elbows and fists flying, every one of those peon trainors would be history.
    That player flipped out.

  8. #8 raj
    November 22, 2004

    Ed Brayton at November 22, 2004 09:07 AM: this is true, but, given the fact that all sides can play at that game, it would likely prove counter-productive. Somewhat like “MAD”: mutually assured destruction.

  9. #9 Ed Brayton
    November 22, 2004

    No analogy is perfect but consider this from the business standpoint you mentioned, I’m telling you hands down, if a little bitty guy half my size came into my office and threw a cup of beer on me, and my coworkers and I jumped over our desks and went rampaging through anyone in reach indiscriminately knocking other customers on their ass and started cold cocking people; we’d be gone. Instantly. No discussion. No fines. No suspension. And if someone had videotaped it and that video made so much as the local rinky-dink evening news, my manager would probably be fired as well.

    Would it really matter if he was half your size? If he was bigger than you, do you think you would not be fired? I think your last statement points out what would really be going on here – you would be fired not because what you did was really wrong, but because the company wants to preserve its public image. But that doesn’t mean that firing you would be a just decision or a fair one, only an expedient one on the part of the company. I’m disputing whether it’s fair or reasonable, not whether it serves an end for the NBA to do.

    Now an office environment is different than a court. But if you had been up on stage doing some comedy one night, say in front of an audience in which you were the biggest meanest guy in the place, and a heckler hit you with a cup of beer, and you came flying off that stage in a blind rage, ripped through a couple of tables sending other patrons flying and ended up cold cocking a guy or two who didn’t even throw the beer, and had to be dragged off still swinging, would you expect to ever work in that club again?

    Actually, yes, but only if I wanted to. In reality, I would expect the bouncers to take care of that and if they didn’t, I’d probably ream out the club owners for it. And I actually have had someone charge the stage intent on doing me bodily harm, and the bouncers did grab the guy and throw him out. But a nightclub is quite different than an office. The bouncers would probably kick the crap out of a guy who threw a beer at a performer, and I doubt most people would find anythign wrong with it.

    The only reason this guy hasn’t been fired is because he’s a ball player. If it had been a junior peon trainor that got hit with a cup of beer form the stands, and he and his trainor pals went wading through the crowd with elbows and fists flying, every one of those peon trainors would be history. That player flipped out.

    But is it because what they did was really all that wrong? Or because some people believe it was wrong and therefore the company has to keep up a public image? By the way, the real reason he hasn’t been fired is because of the collective bargaining agreement and his contract. I suspect the suspension itself might not survive arbitration, but the team would stand to lose a lot if they had just fired him for it.

  10. #10 Jason Kuznicki
    November 22, 2004

    Have the fans been punished? Say, by forbidding them to attend NBA games for a year?

  11. #11 ~DS~
    November 22, 2004

    It’s definitely an image thing, you’re right and that’s a good point. The worse the publicity the more likely someone’s head would have to roll.

    I agree that if you you were say at a party, and some asshole purposely threw a cup of beer at you and hit you in the back, and you flipped out and went ripping through a crowd of people and cold cocked the guy, you should not be convicted of assault. It might make a difference legally if the guy was half your size vs twice your size because under one scenario you might fear for your life and other they other you’re just wailing on a small guy. But I doubt you’d be convicted and you probably might not even be arrested nor should you be.

    But I was addressing the business angle and it wasn’t as simple as the above where the perp get’s smacked for being a dick.
    We’re not talking about arrest here for returning an assault, we’re talking about continued employment prospects at the discretion of a private business for doing so on the job and getting a whole bunch of other customers and employees hurt who had nothing to do with it. Or at least that’s what I was talking about.
    As a matter of fact something like this did happen at a firm I used to work for. A customer came in, the customer was a known weirdo that several brokers had had as a client and given away becuase he was such a whacked out spooky guy, and that customer got into a shouting match with his broker over some miniscule annual fee he’d been charged and took a swing at the broker.
    And the next thing I know those two guys, both about the same size, are rolling around on carpet in the middle of the office and had to be dragged off each other by a security guard and a couple of onlookers including me. That broker was fired within ten minutes. Now that broker might have gotten special treatment if he was a huge producer, but he was a new guy with no book, so he was expendable.

    Had even a huge producer done something like what the ball player did, say flipped out and gone charging through a group of other customers knocking them on their ass, grabbed the wrong guy and started wailing on him, and it made the news complete with video showing our corporate brand name, I’m pretty sure that broker would have been fined or blacklisted out of the business and I wouldn’t be surprised if the manager got canned as well. It wouodn’t matter if the guy had blood clouding his vision from his broken nose, let alone beer in his eye.
    The only possible way the BOM wouldn’t fire a broker for something like that would be if that broker was a top producer AND with huge connections to senior management, again, IOW got special treatment. In that case the manager would have been fired though for not getting rid of the client ahead of time because some one’s head would have to roll for the bad publicity. It’s not fair I agree. But from a business standpoint that’s what I think would happen.

  12. #12 carpundit
    November 22, 2004

    Ed,

    I think you’re off base here. The situation deserves a draconian response:

    Fans who strike (or throw at) players should be arrested, charged with battery, and banned from the games forever.

    Players who go into the stands should be arrested, charged with battery, and banned from the game forever.

    CP

  13. #13 Ed Brayton
    November 22, 2004

    Have the fans been punished? Say, by forbidding them to attend NBA games for a year?

    They have not publicly identified any of the fans, but I’m sure all the ones they can identify will have their season tickets revoked (if they’re season ticket holders). It would be pretty difficult to enforce a rule that barred anyone from buying a ticket to a game because they don’t check ID at the door.

  14. #14 DonM
    November 22, 2004

    Ed,

    I was in England last summer and that is exactly what they do to keep “hooli-fans” out of Premiership football games. They check the ID of everyone at the gate.

  15. #15 Matthew Phillips
    November 22, 2004

    I completely disagree with you. Every job has it’s positive and negative aspects. If you’re an athlete, you get paid very well and you’re famous. But you’re also a target, so that’s your negative. When you choose your profession you’re not just chosing the positive aspects, you’re taking the whole package. Getting yelled at and having stuff thrown at you is part of the package. It happens constantly. I doubt you can find a professional athlete that hasn’t had stuff thrown at him. Fans will bring out the most personal aspects of players lives and make fun of them for it (Steve Kerr was talking about how fans still to this day yell at him about his dad who died in a terrorist attack in Israel). That’s part of being an athlete. They all realize this and ignore in. They let security take care of it.

    The fact that he attacked an innocent guy only makes it worse, in my mind.

  16. #16 Steve
    November 22, 2004

    What a strange debate. Anyway, I’m glad I’m not the only one who finds the “He had it coming” argument rather primitive. Just because two morons get in a fight doesn’t mean one of them is right and the other one wrong. Sure, the Detroit fans were a bunch of drunken louts, but there’s no excuse for Artest’s behavior. And yes, the fact that he’s a millionaire athlete does make a difference. Not because there’s a different standard for athletes, but because if someone’s being paid vast amounts of money to play a game in front of a paying audience, I don’t think it’s too much to ask that he should be mature enough to be able to deal with asshole fans without committing a felony.

  17. #17 Ed Brayton
    November 23, 2004

    My point, gentlemen, is twofold. First, that the fan who started the riot by throwing the beer should bear the primary responsibility for what happened and be punished severely. He should bare considerably more blame, ethically and legally, than Artest should. Second, that Artest’s actions were no different than the reactions of 99% of the population if we were in that situation, and I feel confident in predicting that the two of you would be no exception. If someone threw a beer at you, you’d come out swinging too, and you might well end up hitting someone other than the one who did it too. It’s pretty basic human nature. It doesn’t make Artest a monster, it makes him as normal as you and I.

    Now, I understand that the NBA has to come down hard on such actions to provide a maximum deterrent on them happening again. But the point of my original post was that if the police do not come down equally hard on the fan who threw the beer, it will guarantee that this will not only happen again, but become common. They have now identified the guy who threw the beer, he was on TV this morning. I think that, upon conviction for assault, disorderly conduct, inciting a riot, or whatever other charges they can come up with, he should be in jail for as long as Artest is suspended. That will provide maximum deterrence to insure that fans don’t do the same thing in the future as a way of helping their team out against a rival.

  18. #18 Rick
    November 24, 2004

    Bottom line: Players NEVER go into the stands. That was repeated over and over again on ESPN and any other outlet that was covering the story. Every analyst that was a former player said that they have been told repeatedly not to go into the stands. It is a stupid thing to do. Would Tim Duncan go into the stands? No, he would simply point out the guy and have him arrested. That is what is supposed to happen. Be smart enough to diffuse the situation. Artest was not simply “lying down and not a threat to anyone at all” by lying on the scorers table he was doing some showmanship. There is a lot of blame to go around Wallace got off easy, he should not have reacted that way to the foul. The fan should not have thrown the beer and Artest and crew should not have gone into the stands. Artest could have and should have just gone over to his bench and sat down instead of lying on the scorers table. As for the guy that came onto the court he certainly was trying to square off with Artest. He was not looking for an autograph. He deserved what he got. The whole thing is terrible but the NBA has been courting this type of thing with it’s acceptance of the “thug” mentality. I cannot imagine Jordan, Bird, Magic or even Shaq doing what these guys did. The fans deserved to be punished also. They were horrible.

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