Saturday, November 20, 2004

A Night That Will Go Down In Sports History...For All The Wrong Reasons

It seemed like it should've have been a good game...a rematch between the teams of the 2004 NBA Eastern Conference Finals, the Indiana Pacers and the Detroit Pistons. I wasn't watching the game because I was taking a nap. However, when I woke up to use the washroom, I heard my mom and sister in the living room yelling at the TV. After a while, I figured out what was happening and turned to the game.

Whenever you watch a fight from the outside, you experience a combination of emotions. You're shocked, thrilled, and even entertained, despite the situation. That was the case as I watched what may go down as the most appalling thing to ever happen during an NBA game. I saw the replays as Ron Artest fouled Ben Wallace, and Wallace retaliated by pushing Artest. That wasn't unusual. These things happen sometimes in the NBA. The little scuffle that followed this exchange was tame compared to the fight during the Bulls-Wizards preseason game. Everything seemed settled until some fan threw (or dropped) a cup of water onto Ron Artest as he laid on the scorer's table. Then, it became a brawl. Artest clearly went after the guy he felt threw the cup. Other Pacers players got involved as fans punched players, players punched fans, and stuff was thrown. An official was hit with a bottle. A fan got punched by Ron Artest then a short time later by Jermaine O'Neal. Someone threw a chair into the fray. People threw popcorn and poured drinks onto the Pacers players as they left the floor. Jamaal Tinsley tried to get back into the fray with a dustpan (the type used by janitors) but fortunately, never made it.

My sister and I watched with excitement as this happened. It reminded me of the way kids and teens would enjoy it when people got into a fight at school. However, I know that this is not the type of thing the NBA is all about and how dangerous and frightening it must have been for fans, players, and TV personalities alike. Jim Gray of ESPN, who works the sidelines, sounded shaken by the incident, even hours after it happened. John Saunders of NBA Shootaround passionately displayed his disgust. Bill Walton called it the worst thing he's seen in his 30 years in the NBA.

As easy as it would be to blame the players for "overreacting" and causing this brawl, I think there's more to it than that. Everyone involved takes the blame. Emotions took hold and obviously clouded people's judgment. Ben Wallace should not have pushed Ron Artest after getting fouled. That fan should not have thrown something at a player, especially when he was down. Ron Artest shouldn't have flung into the stands and started to fight. The fans should not have started beating up players and vice versa. The fans also should not have thrown things at players or come onto the court. Families often attend basketball games and it shows ignorance and a lack of maturity in all involved that this could happen. I understand that players should not be expected to let stuff slide. No self-respecting person would let someone hit them without retaliating. However, there is a point where you must have self-control and think before acting.

All of this comes as the NBA had basically gotten rid of its bad "thug" image. Many players who had bad images had started to become respectable again. Kobe's trial was dismissed, Rasheed Wallace was no longer a bad boy, and America has basically forgotten that Latrell Sprewell once choked his coach. The closest thing to a controversy before this brawl was the ridiculous incident with Ron Artest getting benched because he wanted to take a month off to promote a rap album. Now, the league will be the subject of very bad press for the next couple of weeks, press which could potentially affect attendance. And of course, it gives fodder to those people who believe stereotypes of black athletes are true.

Ultimately, the league is going to punish a lot of players harshly. I also think that The Palace at Auburn Hills might have to change some of their policies regarding alcohol (like the Cubs did after that brawl at Wrigley). I also question their security measures. Regardless of how "easy" a basketball game is to do (as the Deputy Police Chief of Auburn Hills said on ESPN), was there any sort of contingency plan to deal with something as large scale as this? I bet some arenas will double-check their security measures after this. However, I hope that everyone involved (especially the fans that took part) will take the time to look back and deal with any lingering issues. Something like this should never happen again, no matter what rivalries or emotions are involved. A player should never hurt a fan or vice versa...period.

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