- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 9, 2004

Seven fans and five NBA players who took part in the brawl between the Pistons and Pacers last month were charged yesterday with criminal conduct. It wasn’t the only consequence of the player-led riot, and it won’t be the last.

NBA commissioner David Stern imposed lengthy suspensions on the three Indiana players who fought with fans, Ron Artest (the rest of the season), Stephen Jackson (30 games) and Jermaine O’Neal (25 games). The players union appealed, and there will be a hearing before an arbitrator today, but Stern said he won’t abide by a ruling that doesn’t uphold the punishments.

Fans injured in the riot filed lawsuits, and the Palace at Auburn Hills banned several fans who took part in the fight.

And then, of course, there’s the consequence that could have the longest lasting effect: Stern said the league will set new security guidelines for its arenas.

Whether those guidelines will include instructions for fans to follow when they are attacked in the stands by players is unclear.

“It is a premature question,” NBA spokesman Tim Frank said. “We are still reviewing the entire incident and reviewing all of our procedures. That is a question for down the line. David said we are going to put together a list of things, and at that point, we will let people know.”

What should fans do in the meantime?

“Let’s be honest — this has happened only twice in the history of our league,” Frank said. “Our goal is to make sure those type of things don’t happen again. Of the two times, the one became a very ugly incident. We are focusing more on making sure it doesn’t happen.”

That’s not good enough.

In the blame game, much has been laid on the fans. They have been criticized for unruly and inappropriate behavior.

But what is the appropriate response when someone is attacked in an arena by professional athletes?

Seriously, what should a basketball fan attending an NBA game tonight do if one of the players feels “disrespected” and charges into the stands to fight? What if Latrell Sprewell steps it up a notch and instead of just sexually insulting courtside fans gives someone the P.J. Carlesimo treatment?

Should the fan throw the chair or hide under it?

Really, if a player comes into the stands and attacks a fan, should the fan fight back? And if said fan is 5-foot-6 and 150 pounds and is facing a beating by a 6-8, 250-pounder, can he use a chair to defend himself?

So I asked myself: What if a player starts beating up the guy next to me? My natural reaction is to try to pull the player off the guy — that’s what I would do in any situation, not just at an NBA arena. Is that now wrong? Should I just stand there and ignore some guy being pummeled? Should I run for the exits? What if I am trapped and can’t move? Should I beg for mercy?

Someone needs to spell this out. The problem: There is no appropriate response for what happened that night at the Palace.

There was an appropriate response when Artest fouled Ben Wallace hard, and it was not Wallace shoving Artest.

There was an appropriate response when Artest was hit with a cup of ice (not beer, mind you, unless some of these pencilneck geek writers put ice in their beer, along with various fruits), and it was not to charge into the stands.

But there is no appropriate response for fans when players attack them in the stands, which makes any criticism about fan violence shaky.

No one should be throwing chairs or drinks or food. That is inappropriate. But everything that happened after Artest went into the stands also was inappropriate. To expect otherwise is like calling for parliamentary procedure at a Hell’s Angels meeting.

Edward Hirt, an Indiana University psychology professor who studies fan behavior, suggested this plan of action when faced with a player attack: “I would either go to get the authorities or try to get yourself and others out of the way of the fray. Trying to talk some sense into the attacker might be worthwhile, too, so long as you don’t antagonize them.”

So the next time an NBA player looking for a fight runs into the stands, try this: “Excuse me, sir, do you really think this is a good idea?”

But don’t antagonize him. That would be inappropriate.

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