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Looking Back at the Brawl

November 20, 2005|From the Associated Press

AUBURN HILLS, Mich. — Millions of dollars were lost, reputations were tainted and the NBA was shaken on Nov. 19, 2004, when the Indiana Pacers, Detroit Pistons and fans were involved in perhaps the worst brawl in U.S. sports history.

A year later, the ugly series of events and the aftermath are being rehashed and dissected.

NBA commissioner David Stern hopes lessons were learned.

"No. 1, players can't go into the stands. They need to leave that to security and not get into vigilantism," Stern said in an interview this week with the Associated Press. "No. 2, fans have to be held accountable because they can't do anything they want just by virtue of buying a ticket. No. 3, we need to continue to review and update our procedures on security and crowd control."

Several players and fans lost control during a five-minute stretch on an unforgettable night at The Palace in suburban Detroit. Piston chief executive Tom Wilson aptly described it as the perfect storm.

It all started when Indiana's Ron Artest fouled Detroit's Ben Wallace with 45.9 seconds left in a game that was essentially over, with the Pacers leading by 15. Wallace responded with a two-handed shove to Artest's chin, leading to several players pushing and Artest lying on the scorer's table.

Just when the confrontation appeared to be over, a fan hit Artest with a cup filled with an icy beverage and the volatile player bolted into the stands in a rage, followed by fist-swinging teammate Stephen Jackson.

Artest and teammate Jermaine O'Neal later slugged fans on the court, and when the Pacers finally were able to get off the court, they were pelted with beer, popcorn and other debris.

The startling scene included the scary -- a fan hurling a chair -- and the surreal -- Indiana's Jamaal Tinsley wielding a dust pan over his head -- as TV cameras captured the chaos.

Stern's response was swift and strong.

Two days later, Artest was suspended for the rest of the season -- 73 games, plus the playoffs -- in a move that cost him almost $5 million.

"I think any person on the street would have done the same thing," Artest said last month. "I just learned that if somebody from the stands throws something at you, don't do anything back or you'll get suspended."

Overall, nine players were suspended. They lost nearly $10 million in salary.

Wallace was suspended for six games, and one of his brothers was among eight fans charged with playing a part in the melee.

"It's hard to say, 'I wouldn't do this again,' or 'I wouldn't do that,' because in a similar situation, you don't know how you'll react," Wallace said. "It was a unique situation with so many things that happened so fast."

The NBA wasn't the only entity to dish out punishment.

Artest, Jackson, O'Neal and teammates Anthony Johnson and David Harrison were sentenced to a year of probation after pleading no contest to misdemeanor assault charges. They also were ordered to perform community service and pay fines.

For some of the players, the legal battle is not over yet. A spectator who was punched on the court, Charlie Haddad, is suing O'Neal, Johnson and the Pacers. Haddad's attorney, Larry Charfoos, said depositions from the players are expected in December or January and the case could go to court in August 2006.

"Charlie got decked by O'Neal with the punch seen around the world, and he's still disabled and under medical attention," Charfoos said. "Charlie pleaded no contest to being on the court and his sentence of two years probation was worse than the players who punched him, which I still don't understand."

Criminal cases are pending for John Green, the fan accused of lobbing the cup that ignited the fracas, as well as spectators William Paulson and John Ackerman. David Wallace, one of Ben Wallace's brothers, was sentenced to a year of probation and community service for punching Pacers in the stands.

"I just got caught up in the heat of the moment," David Wallace said in a telephone interview from Selma, Ala. "When you don't have time to think about something, there's not always a thought process involved."

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