The three members of the Indiana Pacers who are among 10 people facing assault charges in Oakland County, Mich., for their part in a Nov. 19 brawl with fans at The Palace of Auburn Hills could find out today whether the length of their suspensions by NBA commissioner David Stern will be upheld.
The players - three-time All-Star forward Jermaine O'Neal, forward Ron Artest and guard Stephen Jackson - are expected to meet with an arbitrator in New York. The league agreed to arbitration earlier this week after its bid for a temporary injunction was rejected in court.
Yesterday, the three were among five Pacers charged with assault and battery. O'Neal was charged with two counts, and Artest, Jackson, veteran guard Anthony Johnson and rookie center David Harrison with one count each.
Oakland County also brought charges against five fans, including a felony assault charge against one, Bryant Jackson, and two assault charges against John Green.
Oakland County prosecutor David Gorcyca singled out Green, 39, as the one who "single-handedly incited this whole interaction between the fans and players and probably is the one that's most culpable."
Green, who has a prior criminal record, is accused of throwing a cup of liquid at Artest as the player was stretched out on the press table after being pushed violently on the court by the Detroit Pistons' Ben Wallace.
Three others, including Wallace's brother, were also charged with assault and battery, a misdemeanor punishable by up to 93 days in jail and a $500 fine.
Police requested arrest warrants for all the players.
According to reports, Bryant Jackson, 35, had been identified as the fan throwing a chair into the middle of the fracas. The felony charge carries up to a four-year prison sentence. Jackson, no relation to the Indiana player involved in the incident, was also charged with misdemeanor assault and battery.
The brawl played out on national television in the waning moments of a Pacers victory over the defending NBA champions and was replayed so often over the next few hours - and days - that Clemson football coach Tommy Bowden blamed an on-field scuffle between his team and rival South Carolina the following afternoon on his players watching tape of the NBA fight.
Two days after the incident, Stern made his ruling: Artest was suspended for the remainder of the season, a total of 73 games, the longest non-drug-related suspension in league history. O'Neal and Jackson were suspended for 25 and 30 games, respectively.
Johnson was suspended for five games, and Ben Wallace for six. Reggie Miller, on the injured list at the time, was suspended for one game. Harrison was not suspended by the league.
The Pacers, who had the best record in the Eastern Conference at the time of the incident and won two of their first three games after the suspensions were announced, have lost five straight games. Team officials declined to comment on the charges brought yesterday.
"This is a legal matter and we are unable to comment," Pacers CEO and president Donnie Walsh said in a statement. " ... We will continue to support our players in every possible way."
Using a slick Power Point presentation at a news conference covered live by cable outlets CNN, MSNBC and Fox News Channel, Gorcyca took the audience through the stages of the infamous brawl: rewinding and fast-forwarding video blow-by-blow on a large blue screen.
After the cup landed on him, Artest charged in the stands at the wrong person, punching Mike Ryan, 26, of Clarkston.
Green then punched Artest from behind, Gorcyca said, focusing the pointer at the larger-than-life video image.
Artest's attorney, Clarence Tucker, said he was impressed with Gorcyca.
"He said when the cup was tossed at Mr. Artest, it really triggered the entire brawl," Tucker said. "I think that is an accurate assessment."
Green's attorney, Shawn P. Smith, said his client was not at fault - and should not have been charged.
"Ron Artest started the whole thing," Smith said. "Ron Artest had no business going into the stands attacking innocent fans. Even if someone does throw a cup at you that's not appropriate behavior."
James W. Burdick, a Bloomfield Hills, Mich., attorney who is representing Stephen Jackson, said that the charge was "unfair and inappropriate." Jackson was caught on tape rushing into the stands and punching fans.
"The problem is this: a few crazed drunken fans who created a chaotic situation," Burdick said. "Steve responded in a way that he thought was necessary to protect himself and protect his friends."
And what sentencing does he expect?
"No one can ever predict what a judge is going to do," Burdick said. " ... If this were a normal situation, with a guy named Joe Smith who with far, far, far less provocation popped somebody in the nose, he would get probation. End of story."
Jeffery A. Cojocar, an attorney in Troy, Mich., who does not represent any of the charged players or fans, expects justice to be served.
"I do a lot of work in that court. It's a fair court. It may be treated a little differently because of the exposure, but I doubt it. The judges there are very consistent."
Burdick isn't so sure.
"I'm a huge Pistons fan, and I'm a big believer in professional sports. Despite that, I think that public sentiment drove this engine a little bit. I think it's not appropriate.
"Let's put it this way. If it were a Piston at the Palace, and the same thing happened, I am reasonably sure that a different perspective would have been obtained in determining whether or not to charge a Piston. 'Well, a guy threw a cup at him. He was defending himself. Let the league handle [it].'"
Walter Piszvzatowski, who is representing Harrison, said that the rookie center "was acting as a peacemaker throughout the evening. He was trying to make sure everybody was safe."
Anthony Johnson seemed contrite when asked about the incident after practice yesterday.
"We kind of lost our heads a little bit collectively as a unit and it's unfortunate," said Johnson. "It's been played over and over and over again and showed us in a bad light. If we could turn back the hands of time, I'm sure we would do that. We're just going to have to deal with it I guess."
In addition, two men were charged for walking onto the court.
Sun staff writer Ed Waldman, the Associated Press, the Detroit Free Press and other news organizations contributed to this article.
Pacers players charged
Ron Artest - 1 assault and battery count
Stephen Jackson - 1 assault and battery count
David Harrison - 1 assault and battery count
Anthony Johnson - 1 assault and battery count
Jermaine O'Neal - 2 assault and battery counts
David Wallace - 1 assault and battery count
Bryant Jackson - 2 assault counts (1 felony count)
John Green - 2 assault and battery counts
William Paulson - 1 assault and battery count
John Ackerman -1 assault and battery count
Two others were charged for walking onto the court.