Motor City Melee
For those that missed it, last night is one that will go down in infamy in the NBA. In a Detroit home game that was broadcast on national TV by ESPN, the Indiana Pacers' Ron Artest fouled the Detroit Pistons' Ben Wallace hard on a shot late in the game. Wallace reacted by pushing Artest in the face.
The ensuing melee saw lots of shoving and posturing, but nothing terribly out of the ordinary in today's NBA. What was out of the ordinary was that Artest, who is acknowledged around the league as a head case, refrained from retaliating. He went and lay on the scorer's table, away from the fracas.
This is when things took a turn for the revolting: a Detroit fan threw a full drink, and hit Artest square in the chest. Artest jumped into the stands and started pummelling a fan. Pacer Stephen Jackson jumped into the stands and started throwing punches, too, and the fans started punching back. It was a full-on brawl--fans punching players, players punching fans, drinks, bottles, food, and even a chair were thrown at Indiana players during the brawl.
Watching it made my stomach turn.
The game was broadcast nationally by ESPN, and the cameras caught many gruesome moments, including 6-11 All-star Pacer Jermaine O'Neal landing a running punch to the face of one Detroit fan.
For the record, I think Artest and Jackson should be suspended for at least the rest of the year because no matter what, you do not go into the stands to beat the hell out of your customers. Pistons fans might not root for Indiana, but they help pay Pacers' players' salaries. There are laws that take care of situations like this; an eye-for-an-eye mentality was absolutely out of line.
Tim Legler says on ESPN.com:
Artest will probably receive the brunt of the media condemnation from this situation because he's a lightning rod for controversy.
He's wrong. Artest will receive the brunt of the media controversy because what he did was incredibly out of line. This is not a case of self-defense, either; he got hit with a plastic cup, likely full of beer. If he was really fearful, he should have gone to the locker room.
Second, the fan who threw the cup should be charged with inciting a riot. Paying for an overpriced NBA ticket does not give you the right to do whatever the hell you want once you are in the door. He violated the social contract that fans have with each other when he inflamed the situation unnecessarily.
You're going to read a lot about who is and who is not at fault; how security should be ramped up; how the league will perversely and paradoxically benefit from this incident despite its ugliness; how beer sales should be curtailed; etcetera, etcetera. What would go a long way towards making sure this doesn't happen again, though, is something you likely won't hear about in the mainstream media: making sure the fans are respectful.
Sound ridiculous? It isn't. Let me illustrate with an anecdote.
I have good friends (who typify the polite Canadian) who went down to The Palace for the Raptors-Pistons playoff series in 2002. They were taunted, sworn at, and had their pro-Raptors sign taken and ripped in half by the poor-spirited fans. That not a single Pistons' employee rebuked the Detroit fans for their behavior towards my friends sent a strong message; these types of actions would be implicitly condoned and tolerated, and created an environment where the fan who hit Artest with the cup likely thought that there would be no consequences for his actions. The Pistons should be fined, not for being unable to cope with an unforseen full-scale riot situation, but for tacitly encouraging the type of fan behavior that led to this situation.
Some day, though, someone will end up dead at courtside, or rinkside, or the sideline, or in the tunnel, and then we'll all wonder how it could have come to such a horrible end.
I'm surprised nothing like this happened yesterday; is this what has to happen before someone is held accountable, and active steps are taken to fix the problems? ESPN.com ran a poll with over 50% of the 150k+ respondents said that the fans were to blame for last night's events. If the team is not responsible for the fans' behavior, who is?