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NBA Suspends Fox for First Six Games After Altercation With Kings' Christie

October 29, 2002|Tim Brown | Times Staff Writer

Rick Fox put up little resistance Monday afternoon to a six-game suspension, his punishment for smacking and then hunting down Sacramento King guard Doug Christie in an exhibition game three nights before.

Christie, who absorbed a blow and then struck Fox in the chin before being ambushed in the tunnel at Staples Center, was suspended for two games.

Neither was fined -- although the suspensions preclude pay, a near $290,000 hit for Fox -- and none of the dozen or more Kings and Lakers -- Shaquille O'Neal among them -- were suspended by Stu Jackson, NBA vice president of operations, for leaving their bench to join the fray.

Fox, who will participate in tonight's ring ceremony but then will have to leave the arena, will be eligible to return Nov. 8 in Washington, after sitting out games against San Antonio, the Clippers, Cleveland, Boston and two against Portland, extending his training camp by nearly two weeks. The Lakers were already scheduled to open defense of their three consecutive NBA titles without O'Neal, so the season's first fortnight became ever more daunting.

"I have the utmost confidence in the world in my team," a contrite Fox said after a Chamber of Commerce luncheon at the Westin-Bonaventure Hotel. "They'll fill in and do what is needed to keep us going here at the start of the season. It's a lesson learned, something I learned about myself, a mistake made.

"I didn't know what to expect. They got the [video]tape in the tunnel there and obviously that didn't help my cause. It's something that's never happened before and it's a precedent they wanted to set."

Said Christie, "I was glad the commissioner saw fit to understand and not just react."

In a rare conference call, Jackson on several occasions called the events of Friday night "unusual" and condemned Fox's actions as "egregious." He excused the Kings and O'Neal for entering the tunnel, because, he said, "I don't think anyone ... fully knew what was going on out of the sight of the bench areas there.

"In this circumstance, our judgment was that the players who left the bench were attempting to break up the fight and did not escalate the altercation."

The NBA rule book does not allow for leaving the bench during a fight for any reason, which is why Laker Coach Phil Jackson ordered his players to remain nearby, even as the Kings poured into the tunnel.

"It's obvious they disregarded the rule," Phil Jackson said.

Laker General Manager Mitch Kupchak called Fox's punishment "excessive," but said the club would not appeal Stu Jackson's decision.

That leaves the Lakers down two starters with the San Antonio Spurs in town tonight. Phil Jackson said he would start Robert Horry at power forward, but added that he hadn't made his choices at center and small forward. Samaki Walker and Soumaila Samake are his options in the middle, Tracy Murray and Devean George at forward, unless Jackson opts to go small in the backcourt and start Kobe Bryant at small forward. George has had a sore lower back, but said Monday he would have no limitations.

Jackson hates to ride Horry too hard too early, and the absence of O'Neal cuts into the time Walker can play power forward.

Bryant considered the complications brought by injury and behavior, and shrugged.

"This is what we're faced with, so it's important for everybody to believe in themselves, to believe in what we can do as a team, and go out there and play like we know how," he said. "Play loose. This is the best part of the season, a chance to do something that hasn't been done in a long, long time. It's important that we keep that in perspective, that we go out there and have fun and let the games take care of themselves."

He had 12 assists Friday against the Kings, and said to expect more of that style with O'Neal and Fox away.

"The way I played the game against Sacramento, same way I'm going to play all season long," Bryant said. "Same way. Doesn't change. I've got to get my teammates involved, try to make these guys better. It starts at the beginning of the season, all the way down to the end, so when it comes time for the playoffs they're feeling extremely well about themselves and they're viewed as serious threats by our opponents. My game doesn't change. It stays the same."

Along the way, they'll face Sacramento four times, but not again until Christmas.

Stu Jackson said he'd be watching.

"It seems that Sacramento and Los Angeles has developed one of those rivalries," Jackson said. "That's fine. What we can't tolerate is when people's emotions and feelings end up in acts of violence. It will not be tolerated."

That being said, the Lakers and Kings aren't close to being done with one another. Asked during Monday afternoon's luncheon about his toe, O'Neal smiled wryly and said, "It feels pretty good. I had Doug Christie's wife massage it for me."


O'Neal did some light court work Monday. Asked if his dash down the hallway Friday night counted as a rehabilitation exercise, he claimed he hadn't run, but had an explanation for his quick arrival beside Fox. "You ever see Jason from 'Friday the 13th' run?" he asked, smiling. "No, but he always got there."


O'Neal and Mark Madsen (hamstring) will start on the injured list, where they must spend at least five games.... The Lakers have not announced if they will exercise next year's $1.5-million option on Madsen, though it seems doubtful.

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