- The Washington Times - Monday, November 29, 2004

Ron Artest has become Micheal Ray Richardson: a sad figure symbolic of the league’s larger image problem.In 1986, David Stern served Richardson with a lifetime ban from the NBA because of his repeated drug offenses.

Stern aims to make an example out of Artest, too — and rightfully so.

After watching Artest promote his new album on the “Today” show between fielding questions about why he assaulted Pistons fans, Stern must feel justified for banning Artest for the season.

He should feel emboldened to do more.

In 1986, Stern stamped out the NBA’s biggest image problem: drugs. Now the league has a new one: the generally unsavory behavior of its players.

• Latrell Sprewell choked his coach.

• Jason Kidd threw a french fry at his wife and then slapped her.

• Allen Iverson doesn’t go to practice. In fact, he openly disdains it.

• Chris Webber lied to a grand jury.

• Kobe Bryant was accused of sexual assault.

These are not all of the NBA’s stars, just the ones everyone knows about.

Tim Duncan and Kevin Garnett have led exemplary careers — on and off the court. LeBron James just might do the same.

Grant Hill is making a run at the most improbable comeback in league history.

But the fans can’t see Duncan, Garnett or Hill, because Artest, Bryant and Sprewell are in the way.

The average NBA salary is $4.8million a season, and working conditions must be oppressive — with cups flying from every direction.

Sprewell and Iverson and players like them play the game like Robert Conrad. They have a battery on their shoulder, and they dare you to knock it off.

They are angry and defiant. They beat their chests and let out a primal scream. They sneer and snarl and growl and grab their crotches.

They want to get paid, especially if it’s a contract year. They talk of respect, but they show the game no such thing. All the while, they are building their street cred, keeping it real.

Well, nobody keeps it more real than Jazz coach Jerry Sloan. When asked about his team’s recent run of four road games in five nights, Sloan said: “That shouldn’t bother them. Some people have to work five days a week.”

David Stern is one of those people. His job is to repair the NBA’s thuggish image.

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