National Basketball Association Commissioner David Stern took swift punitive action of historic proportions last night for the melee between players and fans at the end of Friday's game between the Detroit Pistons and Indiana Pacers in Auburn Hills, Mich., including handing out a season-ending suspension to Pacers forward Ron Artest.
By missing 73 games, Artest will serve the longest non-drug-related suspension in NBA history.
Eight others were also suspended for a total of 70 games, the bulk of it going to Pacers guard Stephen Jackson, who will sit out 30 games, and Indiana all-star forward Jermaine O'Neal, who will sit out 25. Jackson joined Artest in the stands at the Palace, where they battled with fans who threw cups of beer, ice and popcorn at the players. Artest and O'Neal punched fans who came onto the court.
Pistons center Ben Wallace, who precipitated the brawl by pushing Artest in the chest after Artest had fouled him aggressively, was suspended for six games. Pacers guard Anthony Johnson was suspended for five. Four others were each given one-game suspensions for leaving their respective benches.
The players won't be paid during their suspensions.
Artest, 25, who was initially suspended indefinitely by Stern and missed Indiana's game Saturday night, will sit out the team's remaining games as well as the playoffs. The punishment exceeds the 68-game suspension of Latrell Sprewell, who was banished for the remainder of the 1997-1998 season by Golden State after choking his coach, P.J. Carlesimo.
"The actions of the players involved wildly exceeded the professionalism and self-control that should fairly be expected from NBA players," a visibly upset Stern said at a nationally televised news conference in New York last night.
"We must affirm that the NBA will strive to exemplify the best that can be offered by professional sports and not allow our sport to be debased by what seems to be declining expectations for the behavior of fans and athletes alike."
Artest apologized in a statement.
"It is very important to me that people understand that I didn't mean for the situation to turn out like it did," Artest said.
Stern decided Artest's punishment after watching the tape of the incident from many different angles and talking with those involved as spectators as well as participants. A police investigation in Oakland County, Mich., could result in criminal charges.
As for his own decision, the commissioner said: "It was unanimous -- 1-0. I don't mean to make light of it. It was my decision, and I decided it. ...We have to make the point that there are boundaries in our games. And one of those boundaries which has always been, but is hereby announced to be immutable, is ... that players cannot lose control and go into the stands."
Stern said he was confident the NBA Players Association was not going to challenge the suspensions, which will cost Artest about $5.5 million and O'Neal $4.5 million in lost salary. Stern informed Billy Hunter, the head of the players association, of the suspensions before they were announced.
Artest's past actions, which included wrecking a courtside television monitor and camera two years ago and two suspensions last season, also factored into Stern's judgment. This month, Pacers coach Rick Carlisle benched Artest after he asked for time off to finish producing a new CD for a singing group he is promoting.
"To the extent that it was my decision, I did not strike from my mind the fact that Ron Artest has been suspended on previous occasions for the loss of self-control," Stern said of a player who was honored last season as the league's top defensive player.
Asked his personal reaction to the incident, Stern said: "I would say shock and revulsion and fear" of serious injuries.
Nine people were treated for injuries, none serious, after the brawl.
Stern put some of the blame on the fans, whose bravado might have been fueled by alcohol or by watching the behavior of other sports fans.
On Sept. 13, for instance, taunts between fans in Oakland and members of the Texas Rangers bullpen escalated to the point that the Rangers' Frank Francisco was suspended for 16 games for throwing a chair and breaking the nose of a spectator.
"We have to hold fans accountable for their antisocial behavior as well," Stern said. "Exactly how that will be done is something that we will undertake to study and implement.
"We didn't ask to be at the epicenter of this discussion, [but] we now are going to be in this discussion about what we're going to tolerate in respect to fan behavior, what we're going to tolerate in respect to player behavior and what we now deem to be adequate security procedures to protect both."
Stern said the league will re-examine security measures.
"Everyone knows that if you had 20,000 fans go on a rampage, we'd have a serious problem on our hands, no matter what we did," said Stern. "No matter what security procedures you have in place, you run a risk that a player can jump into the stands or fans will behave on an anti-social basis."
Stern also accepted some of the responsibility.
"It's really an apology of my own." Stern said. "Whatever we've been doing with respect to lowering the level of expectation -- with respect to events such as this -- obviously wasn't enough, because it led to where we are now."
The Associated Press contributed to this article.
Longest NBA suspensions
Longest suspensions in NBA history for on-court incidents, with date or year issued:
73 games: Ron Artest, Indiana Pacers, (for the remainder of the season) for fighting with fans in the final minute of Friday's game against Detroit Pistons. Nov. 21, 2004.
68 games: Latrell Sprewell, Golden State Warriors, (for one year) after "physically assaulting" coach P.J. Carlesimo during a practice. Dec. 4, 1997. Arbitrator John Feerick overturned the Warriors' termination of Sprewell's contract and reduced his one-year suspension by five months, ending July 1.
30 games: Stephen Jackson, Indiana Pacers, for fighting with fans in Friday's game. Nov. 21, 2004.
26 games: Kermit Washington, L.A. Lakers, (60 days) for punching Houston's Rudy Tomjanovich. 1977.
25 games: Jermaine O'Neal, Indiana Pacers, for fighting with fans in Friday's game. Nov. 21, 2004.
Source: Associated Press
The nine players suspended by the NBA for actions during Friday's Pacers-Pistons game:
Ron Artest: 73 games
Stephen Jackson: 30 games
Jermaine O'Neal: 25 games
Anthony Johnson: 5 games
Reggie Miller: 1 game
Ben Wallace: 6 games
Chauncey Billups: 1 game
Elden Campbell: 1 game
Derrick Coleman: 1 game
Peter Schmuck: Harsh discipline hurts fans. Page 1D