AUBURN HILLS, Mich. -- Two years into its campaign to curb excessive violence, the NBA has the chance to issue a strong statement after the 40-stitch cut Isiah Thomas suffered above the left eye from Karl Malone's elbow, the Detroit Pistons say.
A league spokesman said yesterday that a stiff fine and suspension were "highly likely" for Malone, the Utah Jazz's All-Star power forward. The Jazz doesn't play again until tomorrow in Charlotte. When the league announces a suspension, it usually occurs before the affected team's next game.
The Pistons won't get away unscathed from Saturday night's altercation in Salt Lake City. Guard Darrell Walker can expect a fine and a possible suspension. He bolted from the bench and threw a punch at Malone, and he was ejected as referee Luis Grillo dragged him off the floor.
Malone, who was also ejected, said the elbow was accidental.
"I don't think Rod Thorn will even hesitate in levying a big suspension," said Pistons forward Dennis Rodman, referring to the NBA's vice president of operations. "He could have taken his eye out with that elbow, considering how big he is."
Referring to the Pistons' reputation, Malone said: "It's amazing they do the intentional [stuff] and they get away with it. But we do something clean and accidental, and they make a big deal about it."
Four and a half minutes into the game, Thomas drove past Mark Eaton, and Malone lunged toward him with his right elbow cocked. It caught Thomas above his left eye. As blood poured out, Thomas tried to sit up but soon collapsed.
Thomas was taken to LDS Hospital, where it took 15 internal and 25 external stitches to close a deep, inch-long wound. Thomas returned in the fourth quarter of the Pistons' 102-100 loss.
Two seasons ago, the NBA gave officials the authority to disqualify any player who used excessive or unnecessary force. It was nicknamed "the Pistons rule" in light of
the team's Bad Boys reputation. But how will the league look upon a Piston as the victim and an All-Star as the aggressor?
"That's what we're going to find out," Pistons center Bill Laimbeer said. "I hope they would do it the same way they would to any other player, such as myself. You've got to think that it would be a large suspension."
Although Thomas didn't indict Malone for purposely whacking him, his teammates' contempt was clear.
"It was premeditated," Laimbeer said. "I think basically it was because he lit them up for 44 points the last time. It was a premeditated situation. They wanted to take him out. They didn't want him to embarrass [John] Stockton again."
Many Jazz players considered Thomas' effort in the Pistons' 123-115 victory Nov. 15 at the Palace of Auburn Hills to be unnecessary payback for Stockton's selection to the U.S. Olympic team over Thomas. Malone is also on the team.
"That had nothing to do with it," coach Jerry Sloan said.