Published November 22, 2004
NEW YORK – Ron Artest (search) was suspended for the rest of the season Sunday and two fellow Indiana Pacers received suspensions of at least 25 games for fighting with fans as an NBA game against the Detroit Pistons degenerated into a melee.
Nine players from the teams were banned for a combined 143 games, including some of the harshest penalties the league has ever issued. Artest is the first player to be suspended for nearly an entire season for a fight during a game.
"The line is drawn, and my guess is that won't happen again — certainly not by anybody who wants to be associated with our league," commissioner David Stern (search) said.
Pushing and shoving among players at Friday's game escalated into one of the worst fights in U.S. professional sports history when a fan threw a drink at Artest and he jumped into the stands, throwing punches. Nine people were treated for injuries, none serious.
Indiana's Stephen Jackson was suspended for 30 games and Jermaine O'Neal (search) for 25. Both players also threw punches at fans in the stands or on the court at the end of the nationally televised game at Auburn Hills, Mich.
Detroit's Ben Wallace — whose shove of Artest after a foul led to the five-minute fracas — drew a six-game ban, while Pacers guard Anthony Johnson got five games.
Four players were suspended for a game apiece: Indiana's Reggie Miller and Detroit's Chauncey Billups, Elden Campbell and Derrick Coleman.
All the suspensions are without pay. Artest will lose approximately $5 million in salary, while O'Neal's suspension will cost him nearly 25 percent of his $14.8 million salary for the current season.
"I respect David Stern, but I don't think that he has been fair with me in his situation," Artest said in a statement released by the players' union.
Artest also expressed his regrets. "It is very important to me that people understand that I didn't mean for the situation to turn out like it did," he said.
Players' union director Billy Hunter called the penalties excessive and said an appeal would be filed Monday.
The Pacers will be able to place Artest, O'Neal and Jackson on the suspended list and sign players to take their place. Limited to just six players Saturday by suspensions and injuries, Indiana dropped an 86-83 decision to Orlando.
"I'm sick about that for Indiana. I'm devastated for them," Pistons coach Larry Brown said. "And we lost our heart and soul."
Billups, Coleman and Campbell served their suspensions Sunday. Wallace will be eligible to return Dec. 3 against San Antonio.
Stern took the unusual step of calling a news conference at Madison Square Garden before the New York Knicks-Cleveland Cavaliers game to announce the suspensions, commenting that Friday night's fracas represented "the worst" of the more than 20,000 games he has presided over in his more than two decades as commissioner.
Stern noted that fans — who threw punches of their own and tossed drinks at players — shared some blame for the brawl.
"To watch the out-of-control fans in the stands was disgusting, but it doesn't excuse our players going into the stands," Stern said, promising a wide-ranging review that will encompass everything from security procedures to alcohol sales at arenas.
The NBA must "redefine the bounds of acceptable conduct for fans attending our games and resolve to permanently exclude those who overstep those bounds," Stern said.
For Sunday night's home game against the Charlotte Bobcats — Detroit's first outing since the melee — the Pistons doubled the number of armed police in the arena to about 20 and increased other arena security personnel by about 25 percent. When both teams went to the locker room at halftime, they were escorted by police.
Police were continuing to investigate the brawl, one of the NBA's most violent.
Artest and Jackson bolted into the stands near center court and throwing punches at fans after debris was tossed at the players. Later, fans who came onto the court were punched in the face by Artest and O'Neal. Players who entered the stands and tried to act as peacemakers were not penalized.
Wallace began the fracas by delivering a hard, two-handed shove to Artest after Wallace was fouled on a drive to the basket with 45.9 seconds remaining. Referees ultimately called off the rest of the game.
The initial skirmish wasn't all that bad, with Artest retreating to the scorer's table and lying atop it after Wallace sent him reeling backward. But when a fan tossed a cup at Artest, he stormed into the stands, throwing punches as he climbed over seats.
Jackson joined Artest and threw punches at fans, who punched back. Later, Indiana players were pelted with drinks, popcorn and other items as they left the court; at one point, a chair was tossed into the fray.
The most recent example of an NBA player going into the stands and punching a fan came in 1995, when Vernon Maxwell of the Houston Rockets pummeled a spectator in Portland, Ore. The league suspended him for 10 games and fined him $20,000.
Among the harshest non-drug-related penalties in NBA history was a one-year suspension of Latrell Sprewell — later reduced to 68 games — for choking Golden State Warriors coach P.J. Carlesimo at practice.
Artest was benched for two games this month for asking Pacers coach Rick Carlisle for time off because of a busy schedule that included promoting a rap album.
Artest was suspended twice by the NBA last season, once for leaving the bench during a fracas at a Pacers-Celtics playoff game; the other for elbowing Portland's Derek Anderson. During the 2002-03 season, Artest was suspended five times by the NBA and once by the Pacers for a total of 12 games.
Artest also once grabbed a television camera and smashed it to the ground after a loss to the Knicks two years ago.