Not Enough

Did you know that before the basketball season, Indiana Pacer Ron Artest changed his jersey number to 91, the same number Dennis Rodman wore for the Chicago Bulls? Last season Artest wore 23, the number Michael Jordan wore for the Bulls. The change was telling.

Early Sunday evening, National Basketball Association commissioner David Stern, to whom image is indeed everything, announced the penalties for the players involved in the Friday night brawl between the Indiana Pacers, the Detroit Pistons, and fans in the stands at the Palace of Auburn Hills that once again tarnished the quickly—eroding image of his league.

The verdict for the major participants: Artest is gone for the remainder of the season without pay. Teammates Stephen Jackson and Jermaine O'Neal are suspended for 30 and 25 games respectively, also without pay, also for climbing into the Palace seats to randomly beat on fans that they thought showered beer on Artest. Detroit Piston Ben Wallace, who violently shoved Artest on the court after a hard foul just before the melee, will sit for six games. Others were fined one game for leaving the bench during the altercation.

Combined, Artest, Jackson, and O'Neal will lose $11,665,374 in salary this year and the Pacers now have zero chance of winning the NBA championship, a championship for which they were contenders this season. There is only one problem with Stern's decision, however. The punishment is too soft.

Ron Artest should be banned from the NBA for life. He alone is responsible for the mayhem at the Palace. Jackson and O'Neal should at least be suspended for the remainder of the season as well for the malicious violence visited upon anyone getting in their way, but Artest was the catalyst.

To review, in the waning seconds of a Pacer victory, Artest needlessly committed a hard foul against Detroit's Wallace. Wallace, frustrated with the loss, pushed Artest so hard that Artest was on his heels. That shove was not a good move on Wallace's part, but it's part of the game. If Artest was spoiling for a fight, as he appeared to be when he climbed into the stands, he should have been man enough to take on Wallace right then. Had he done so, he would have eventually been escorted off the floor with a few beer showers, but he would have been hastily taken into the locker room by Pacer personnel and security, and nothing would have erupted between player and fan.

Instead, Artest backed away from Wallace and retreated to the safety of the Pacer huddle during the stoppage in play. Artest then made his way to the scorer's table and inexplicably lay down on his back, all the while taunting Wallace, who threw a sweatband at him from the Piston huddle. Then the cup of beer came hurtling down from the stands and all hell broke loose. Artest popped up and knocked over anyone in his way to assail the person whom he thought threw the cup, punching the blameless and defenseless fan, while asking 'Did you do it?'

The fan, according to the Detroit Free Press, said no. As Michael Rosenberg of the Free Press pointed out, it was physically impossible for Artest to have determined who exactly threw the cup at him. Meanwhile, Jackson and O'Neal rushed into the stands and jacked fans for no reason, though they later claimed they were defending their teammate. Artest and O'Neal both punched fans after they had returned to the playing floor.

Artest is a cancer on the league and his behavior is indicative of a disturbing trend in sports and society at large. Just last week Artest was at the center of talk in the sports world for having asked Pacer coach Rick Carlisle for a few games off. It seems Ron was fatigued from all of the promotion he had been doing for his new rap album, and a few days away from the team would help him recover.

This transparent marketing ploy had traditionalists shaking their heads, but spoke volumes about the culture of today's NBA players, which seems to be 'Me first, team second...or fourth or fifth.'  Before the season, Latrell Sprewell of the Minnesota Timberwolves — the same Spree who was suspended for a season for choking his head coach during practice but allowed to return to the league — said that the Timberwolves insulted him by merely offering him a contract for $9 million a year. Spree said he had a family to feed, after all. In the middle of a trial in which he was accused of rape, L.A. Laker Kobe Bryant decided it was more important to win scoring championships than team championships, and orchestrated the dismissal from the Lakers of perhaps the most dominating force in the game, Shaquille O'Neal, so Bryant could be 'The Man' in L.A.

It's nice to have choices in life, and Artest had many on Friday night. He could have chosen to confront Wallace and fight him after Wallace's push. Opting not to do that because he knew his face would look like grandma's mashed potatoes afterward, Artest chose to put the spotlight on himself by stretching out on the scorer's table and mocking Wallace. After the beer came flying in, Artest had the choice not to run into the stands in a crazed sprint and begin pounding on fans. Artest made his choices, and now he should pay.    

Artest and his compatriots need to be schooled on the consequences of choice. They earn millions of dollars for playing basketball at the pleasure of the league, its team owners and ticket—paying customers, not as an entitlement because they were born of immense talent and worked on their skills. There are a hundred guys with the talent of Artest on the playgrounds of America who, for whatever reason, did not get the breaks Artest did, and whose talent will never see the national spotlight. Yet with millions of dollars being heaped upon kids who bypass college for the pros on potential alone, a sense of entitlement among guys who have done nothing in or for the league has crept in and will be difficult to erase. Banishment for life from the league that bestows upon them the lavish salaries might be a step in crushing that mentality.

Lest anyone think that Friday's incident is the end of civilization, we know that when it comes to fan behavior in the stands, throwing debris onto the fields of play and at players has been going on since the days of the Roman Coliseum. There is a reason that the sports pages of yesteryear referred to basketball players as 'cagers,' and that is because a giant cage of chicken wire surrounded the court, so as to protect players and coaches from unruly spectators. Just a few years ago, commentators pronounced the nadir of fan behavior when thousands of plastic beer bottles littered the field during a Cleveland Browns game. This past summer, two examples of fans and players interacting violently occurred in baseball. Fans feel, erroneously, they are a part of the game, and this is not the last time a player will get doused or assailed verbally from the stands. Artest is fortunate — as the game was in Detroit — that he wasn't hit with an octopus from a disgruntled and displaced Red Wings fan.

This is not to excuse, justify, or endorse fans being able to shower the court or players with beer. There is a risk of injury to players when that sort of thing occurs, and thanks to videotape, the Pistons should be able to track down most of the fans who came onto the court or threw debris at the players, and punish them to the tune of lifetime bans from the Palace. That includes Wallace's brother, who was in the middle of the scuffles that spilled on to the court. What's good for the players is good for the fans in this case. The fan who threw the cup at Artest should be prosecuted and publicly ridiculed for his idiotic, brainless act. Purchasing a ticket does not entitle fans to be a part of the game, to throw things at players, or to step out onto the floor to confront those players. Fans are customers at a place of business, and are expected to act enthusiastically but within the bounds of good taste.

Artest and the NBA Players Association are already predictably crying foul, saying that the season suspension is too harsh. Artest, in a statement, said 'I don't think (Stern) has been fair with me in this situation.' This is laughable, and Artest should thank Stern for his magnanimity. When training camp opens next season, Artest, O'Neal, and Jackson will be with some team, somewhere, collecting their inflated salaries, preening after dunks, and secure in the knowledge that not even charging into the stands to punch fans at random will cost them their careers. That's too bad. It should. 

Matt May can be reached at matthewtmay@yahoo.com; his blogsite is mattymay.blogspot.com

Did you know that before the basketball season, Indiana Pacer Ron Artest changed his jersey number to 91, the same number Dennis Rodman wore for the Chicago Bulls? Last season Artest wore 23, the number Michael Jordan wore for the Bulls. The change was telling.

Early Sunday evening, National Basketball Association commissioner David Stern, to whom image is indeed everything, announced the penalties for the players involved in the Friday night brawl between the Indiana Pacers, the Detroit Pistons, and fans in the stands at the Palace of Auburn Hills that once again tarnished the quickly—eroding image of his league.

The verdict for the major participants: Artest is gone for the remainder of the season without pay. Teammates Stephen Jackson and Jermaine O'Neal are suspended for 30 and 25 games respectively, also without pay, also for climbing into the Palace seats to randomly beat on fans that they thought showered beer on Artest. Detroit Piston Ben Wallace, who violently shoved Artest on the court after a hard foul just before the melee, will sit for six games. Others were fined one game for leaving the bench during the altercation.

Combined, Artest, Jackson, and O'Neal will lose $11,665,374 in salary this year and the Pacers now have zero chance of winning the NBA championship, a championship for which they were contenders this season. There is only one problem with Stern's decision, however. The punishment is too soft.

Ron Artest should be banned from the NBA for life. He alone is responsible for the mayhem at the Palace. Jackson and O'Neal should at least be suspended for the remainder of the season as well for the malicious violence visited upon anyone getting in their way, but Artest was the catalyst.

To review, in the waning seconds of a Pacer victory, Artest needlessly committed a hard foul against Detroit's Wallace. Wallace, frustrated with the loss, pushed Artest so hard that Artest was on his heels. That shove was not a good move on Wallace's part, but it's part of the game. If Artest was spoiling for a fight, as he appeared to be when he climbed into the stands, he should have been man enough to take on Wallace right then. Had he done so, he would have eventually been escorted off the floor with a few beer showers, but he would have been hastily taken into the locker room by Pacer personnel and security, and nothing would have erupted between player and fan.

Instead, Artest backed away from Wallace and retreated to the safety of the Pacer huddle during the stoppage in play. Artest then made his way to the scorer's table and inexplicably lay down on his back, all the while taunting Wallace, who threw a sweatband at him from the Piston huddle. Then the cup of beer came hurtling down from the stands and all hell broke loose. Artest popped up and knocked over anyone in his way to assail the person whom he thought threw the cup, punching the blameless and defenseless fan, while asking 'Did you do it?'

The fan, according to the Detroit Free Press, said no. As Michael Rosenberg of the Free Press pointed out, it was physically impossible for Artest to have determined who exactly threw the cup at him. Meanwhile, Jackson and O'Neal rushed into the stands and jacked fans for no reason, though they later claimed they were defending their teammate. Artest and O'Neal both punched fans after they had returned to the playing floor.

Artest is a cancer on the league and his behavior is indicative of a disturbing trend in sports and society at large. Just last week Artest was at the center of talk in the sports world for having asked Pacer coach Rick Carlisle for a few games off. It seems Ron was fatigued from all of the promotion he had been doing for his new rap album, and a few days away from the team would help him recover.

This transparent marketing ploy had traditionalists shaking their heads, but spoke volumes about the culture of today's NBA players, which seems to be 'Me first, team second...or fourth or fifth.'  Before the season, Latrell Sprewell of the Minnesota Timberwolves — the same Spree who was suspended for a season for choking his head coach during practice but allowed to return to the league — said that the Timberwolves insulted him by merely offering him a contract for $9 million a year. Spree said he had a family to feed, after all. In the middle of a trial in which he was accused of rape, L.A. Laker Kobe Bryant decided it was more important to win scoring championships than team championships, and orchestrated the dismissal from the Lakers of perhaps the most dominating force in the game, Shaquille O'Neal, so Bryant could be 'The Man' in L.A.

It's nice to have choices in life, and Artest had many on Friday night. He could have chosen to confront Wallace and fight him after Wallace's push. Opting not to do that because he knew his face would look like grandma's mashed potatoes afterward, Artest chose to put the spotlight on himself by stretching out on the scorer's table and mocking Wallace. After the beer came flying in, Artest had the choice not to run into the stands in a crazed sprint and begin pounding on fans. Artest made his choices, and now he should pay.    

Artest and his compatriots need to be schooled on the consequences of choice. They earn millions of dollars for playing basketball at the pleasure of the league, its team owners and ticket—paying customers, not as an entitlement because they were born of immense talent and worked on their skills. There are a hundred guys with the talent of Artest on the playgrounds of America who, for whatever reason, did not get the breaks Artest did, and whose talent will never see the national spotlight. Yet with millions of dollars being heaped upon kids who bypass college for the pros on potential alone, a sense of entitlement among guys who have done nothing in or for the league has crept in and will be difficult to erase. Banishment for life from the league that bestows upon them the lavish salaries might be a step in crushing that mentality.

Lest anyone think that Friday's incident is the end of civilization, we know that when it comes to fan behavior in the stands, throwing debris onto the fields of play and at players has been going on since the days of the Roman Coliseum. There is a reason that the sports pages of yesteryear referred to basketball players as 'cagers,' and that is because a giant cage of chicken wire surrounded the court, so as to protect players and coaches from unruly spectators. Just a few years ago, commentators pronounced the nadir of fan behavior when thousands of plastic beer bottles littered the field during a Cleveland Browns game. This past summer, two examples of fans and players interacting violently occurred in baseball. Fans feel, erroneously, they are a part of the game, and this is not the last time a player will get doused or assailed verbally from the stands. Artest is fortunate — as the game was in Detroit — that he wasn't hit with an octopus from a disgruntled and displaced Red Wings fan.

This is not to excuse, justify, or endorse fans being able to shower the court or players with beer. There is a risk of injury to players when that sort of thing occurs, and thanks to videotape, the Pistons should be able to track down most of the fans who came onto the court or threw debris at the players, and punish them to the tune of lifetime bans from the Palace. That includes Wallace's brother, who was in the middle of the scuffles that spilled on to the court. What's good for the players is good for the fans in this case. The fan who threw the cup at Artest should be prosecuted and publicly ridiculed for his idiotic, brainless act. Purchasing a ticket does not entitle fans to be a part of the game, to throw things at players, or to step out onto the floor to confront those players. Fans are customers at a place of business, and are expected to act enthusiastically but within the bounds of good taste.

Artest and the NBA Players Association are already predictably crying foul, saying that the season suspension is too harsh. Artest, in a statement, said 'I don't think (Stern) has been fair with me in this situation.' This is laughable, and Artest should thank Stern for his magnanimity. When training camp opens next season, Artest, O'Neal, and Jackson will be with some team, somewhere, collecting their inflated salaries, preening after dunks, and secure in the knowledge that not even charging into the stands to punch fans at random will cost them their careers. That's too bad. It should. 

Matt May can be reached at matthewtmay@yahoo.com; his blogsite is mattymay.blogspot.com