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Archive for Monday, November 22, 2004

NBA suspends Artest for rest of season

November 22, 2004

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— Ron Artest was suspended for the rest of the season Sunday, and two of his Indiana Pacers teammates must miss a total of 55 games for fighting with fans during a melee that broke out at the end of a game against the Detroit Pistons.

Overall, the NBA issued some of the harshest penalties in its history by banning nine players for more than 140 games. Artest's suspension was the strongest ever levied 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 -- Indiana's Reggie Miller, and Detroit's Chauncey Billups, Elden Campbell and Derrick Coleman -- were suspended one game apiece for leaving the bench during the initial fracas.

All of the suspensions are without pay. Artest will lose approximately $5 million in salary, while O'Neal's suspension will cost him nearly 25 percent of his $14.8 million salary for the current season.

Players union director Billy Hunter, calling the penalties excessive, said an appeal would be filed Monday.

"We have to make the point that there are boundaries in our games," Stern said. "One of our boundaries, that have always been immutable, is the boundary that separate the fans from the court. Players cannot lose control and move into the stands."

Artest, O'Neal and Jackson began serving their suspensions Saturday.

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

Artest's penalty was the most severe because of his checkered history. Artest being provoked into running into the stands by a fan who threw a drink did not appear to be a mitigating factor in Stern's decision.

"It was unanimous, one to nothing," Stern said. "I did not strike from my mind the fact that Ron Artest had been suspended on previous conditions for loss of self-control."

The Pacers will be able to place Artest, O'Neal and Jackson on the suspended list and sign players to take their place. Limited to just six players Saturday, Indiana dropped an 86-83 decision to Orlando.

Billups, Coleman and Campbell served their suspensions Sunday. Wallace will be eligible to return Dec. 3 against San Antonio.

Stern took the unusual step of calling a news conference at Madison Square Garden prior to the Knicks-Cavaliers game to announce the suspensions, commenting that Friday night's fracas represented "the worst" of the 20,000 to 25,000 games he has presided over in his more than two decades as commissioner.

"To watch the out-of-control fans in the stands was disgusting, but it doesn't excuse our players going into the stands," Stern said, promising a wide-ranging review that will encompass everything from security procedures to alcohol sales at arenas.

"We have to do everything possible to redefine the covenant between players and fans, and between fans and fans, and make sure we can play our games in very welcoming and peaceful settings," he said.

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," Stern said.

For Sunday 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.

Friday night's brawl 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. Players who entered the stands and tried to act as peacemakers were not penalized.

Nine people were treated for injuries, and police are investigating possible criminal charges.

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.

The initial skirmish wasn't all that bad, with Artest retreating to the scorer's table and 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.

"Mr. Jackson was well into the stands, and certainly anyone who watched any television this weekend understood he wasn't going in as a peacemaker," Stern said. "Jermaine, I think it's fair to say, exceeded any bounds of peacemaking with the altercation with the fan in which he was involved.

"His penalty actually would have been harsher if he had succeeded in getting into his stands, which he tried to do but was restrained from."

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.

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, while Dennis Rodman was suspended 11 games for kicking a courtside cameraman in the groin and six games for head-butting a referee.

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

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