- The Washington Times - Sunday, November 21, 2004

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — While many in the NBA would not immediately blame anyone in particular for Friday night’s melee between Detroit and Indiana at the Palace of Auburn Hills, Washington Wizards center Etan Thomas came to the support of his fellow players.

“Everyone has a right to defend themselves,” said Thomas, who did not make the trip to New Jersey for the Wizards’ game against the Nets last night. “No player can be expected to contain himself after being hit in the face with a bottle or a cup.

“The law allows a person to defend themselves if they are under attack. Those fans are the most despicable forms of cowards. I wouldn’t even call them fans — I would just call them cowards. There should be criminal charges brought against them. We’ll see what happens.”

Yesterday the NBA suspended Indiana’s Ron Artest, Jermaine O’Neal and Stephen Jackson, and Detroit’s Ben Wallace indefinitely for taking part in a brawl that began on the court and spilled over into the stands. Meanwhile, members of the Wizards appeared shocked by the incident.

“I’ve never seen anything like that before,” forward Antawn Jamison said. “It’s a difficult thing because things like that just don’t happen. I just wish we could put it behind us because the NBA is a family atmosphere.”

Guard Gilbert Arenas said the incident happened so quickly that determining what he might have done in that situation was impossible.

“You’ll never know what you’ll do in a situation like that until you see one of your teammates get hit with a cup,” Arenas said. “But if he goes in the stands, you gotta help him — that’s what a team is about. As a team, [the Pistons] stuck with Ben Wallace. They were like, ‘If you mess with Ben Wallace, you mess with all of us.’ ”

Jamison has heard suggestions that fans should be moved farther away from the court, but he does not agree.

“I don’t think that’s the alternative,” Jamison said. “That’s the one thing about basketball — you are right there. Maybe they need more security, but I don’t think the fans are too close. I don’t know where you place the blame. Tempers flared. But to say [Artest] lost his cool is an understatement.”

However, Thomas seemed to endorse moving fans farther from the court if security can’t handle the situation.

“Obviously, there was not enough security or the security did not do their job,” Thomas said. “How are players supposed to feel safe when the security will let fans behave like that?”

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