- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 24, 2004

INDIANAPOLIS — Ron Artest was benched by his coach two weeks ago because he wanted time off to promote a new CD that he produced for an R&B; group. Well, the Indiana Pacers forward has plenty of time on his hands now.

Two days after NBA commissioner David Stern suspended him for the rest of the season for climbing into the stands to fight with Detroit Pistons fans, Artest began trying to scrub his image and sell some records, doing a series of local and national TV interviews and promotional appearances.

He was contrite and soft-spoken in his interviews, during which he mixed plugs for the CD with statements of regret for Friday’s brawl at the Palace of Auburn Hills in suburban Detroit.

Artest said that he wanted to stay in a good frame of mind — “I’m trying to be positive,” he told Reuters. “I’m a big fan of the Nobel Peace Prize” — and that he didn’t want his four children to see the often-replayed video of him throwing punches in the stands after a spectator threw a cup at him.

Artest spent much of yesterday morning at the studios of an Indianapolis radio station, where he appeared on WNOU’s morning show and did an interview on NBC’s “Today” show.

Dozens of fans gathered outside, many bearing messages of support: “Ron, can I have a hug?” read one sign, and a radio-station employee wore a T-shirt that read “Free Ron.”

Artest seemed to have a message of his own: Buy this CD.

During the “Today” interview, Artest held up the new CD three times and wore a T-shirt and hat emblazoned with the logo of his record label, TruWarier Records.

“It’s positive. It’s about love,” Artest said of the CD.

Artest was not the only person involved in the incident who was busy yesterday:

• The NBA players union filed an appeal on behalf of Artest and teammates Stephen Jackson and Jermaine O’Neal, who also were suspended for their roles in the brawl.

The union asked that an arbitrator decide whether the punishments should be reduced. Jackson was suspended 30 games and O’Neal 25.

Mr. Stern, who issued the suspensions, has sole discretion under collective bargaining rules over penalties for on-court behavior, and all appeals go through him.

The union, however, asked that the case go to arbitrator Roger Kaplan. An NBA spokesman said the appeal was received, but that the league would have no other comment.

The union also is considering taking the case to federal court.

• Police in Auburn Hills, Mich., released a copy of a videotape showing a man who investigators think hurled a chair into the crowd during the brawl. Police asked the public to help identify him.

• Two fans sued the Pacers and Artest, Jackson and O’Neal.

John Ackerman, 67, says he was hit by O’Neal and then knocked unconscious by a thrown chair. His suit also names Palace Sports & Entertainment Inc., which operates the Pistons’ arena. William Paulson, 26, says Artest and Jackson assaulted him.

• Another fan, John Green, appeared yesterday on ABC’s “Good Morning America” to deny accusations that he threw the cup that hit Artest and ignited the brawl.

“I don’t go around breaking the law,” Mr. Green said. “If they have found that I broke the law, I’ll pay the price.”

However, Oakland County prosecutor David Gorcyca, a former neighbor of Mr. Green who identified him on the videotape, said Mr. Green was on probation for his third offense of driving under the influence. Mr. Green’s record also includes convictions for carrying a concealed weapon and check fraud, according to the Michigan Department of Corrections’ database.

Pistons chief executive Tom Wilson said Mr. Green is a season-ticket holder and will be banned from the Palace.

Artest has been in trouble often: This was the seventh time in the past two years he has been fined or suspended by the NBA.

Earlier this month, he was held out of two games by Pacers coach Rick Carlisle after he asked for time off because he was tired from working on the CD.

Artest said he planned to continue promoting the new CD from the R&B; trio Allure, a group signed to his record label.

In the “Today” interview, Artest said the length of his suspension was not appropriate.

“I don’t think it was fair, that many games,” he said. “I respect David Stern’s decisions, but I don’t think I should have been out for the whole season.”

The season-long suspension for the fight will cost Artest almost $5 million in salary.

Artest said that he wishes the brawl in Detroit never happened and that he just wants to move on.

“People go to war, but we don’t want to go to war,” Artest said. “Nobody wants to die, but things happen, and you move on. You try to move on, and you try to make everything positive.”

He also offered some advice to others during his interviews.

“I hope that if that would happen to any other players in the NBA that they won’t react how I reacted,” he said.

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