- The Washington Times - Monday, November 22, 2004

NEW YORK — Ron Artest was suspended for the rest of the season yesterday as the National Basketball Association came down hard on three members of the Indiana Pacers for fighting with fans when a melee broke out at the end of a game against the Detroit Pistons.

Nine players from the teams were banned for more than 140 games, including some of the harshest penalties that 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 said.

Indiana’s Stephen Jackson was suspended for 30 games and Jermaine O’Neal for 25. 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.

“I’m sick about that for Indiana. I’m devastated for them,” Pistons coach Larry Brown said. “And we lost our heart and soul.”

Four players were suspended for a game apiece: Indiana’s Reggie Miller and Detroit’s Chauncey Billups, Elden Campbell and Derrick Coleman.

All of the suspensions are without pay.

Players union director Billy Hunter, calling the penalties excessive, said an appeal would be filed with Mr. Stern today.

O’Neal’s agent shot back yesterday. “The NBA has singled out Jermaine O’Neal in an arbitrary and capricious way,” said agent Arn Tellem, faulting the NBA for not considering the players’ fears for their own safety.

Pacers co-owner Herb Simon issued a statement saying, “We believe that there was a rush to judgment and not enough opportunity for all sides to be heard. We will vigorously support our players in any available appeal process.”

Artest, O’Neal and Jackson, who all threw punches at fans in the stands or on the court at the end of the nationally televised Pacers-Pistons game on Friday night, began serving their suspensions Saturday.

“I respect David Stern, but I don’t think that he has been fair with me in this situation,” Artest said in a statement released by the players’ union, in which he also expressed his regrets.

“The actions of the players involved wildly exceeded the professionalism and self-control that should fairly be expected from NBA players,” Mr. Stern said, adding that the league must not “allow our sport to be debased by what seem to be declining expectations.”

The NBA also has to “redefine the bounds of acceptable conduct for fans attending our games and resolve to permanently exclude those who overstep those bounds,” he said.

He added that security procedures in all NBA arenas will be reviewed and rules need to be added to prevent a repeat of what happened at Auburn Hills, Mich., on Friday.

For last night’s home game against the Charlotte Bobcats — Detroit’s first outing since the melee — the Pistons doubled the number of armed police to about 20 in the arena and increased other arena security personnel by about 25 percent.

When some spectators lined up to take pictures with Pistons guard Lindsey Hunter on the court before the game, two police officers stood just a few feet away.

The brawl Friday was particularly violent, with Artest and Jackson bolting 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.

Nine persons were treated for injuries, and police are investigating whether criminal charges will be filed.

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. After the fight ended, the referees called off the rest of the game.

In the initial skirmish, Artest retreated to the scorer’s table and was 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. 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 February 1995, when Vernon Maxwell of the Houston Rockets pummeled a spectator in Portland. 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 in 1997.

Kermit Washington of the Los Angeles Lakers drew a 60-day (26-game) suspension in 1977 for a punch that broke the jaw of the Houston Rockets’ Rudy Tomjanovich during a game, and Dennis Rodman was suspended 11 games for kicking a courtside cameraman in the groin in 1997 and six games for head-butting a referee in 1996.

Artest was benched for two games this month after 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 grabbed a television camera and smashed it to the ground after a loss to the Knicks two years ago.

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