This is a blog post I wrote five years ago tonight, shortly after getting home from the Palace after watching Ron Artest turn the NBA upside down.
I don't know what to say.
First, the important thing. I'm basically OK. I got knocked over a table, which set off a minor bout of back spasms. My laptop got knocked onto the concrete floor at the same time, but seems to have survived intact. We'll have to see about that.
Here's what happened. The Pacers were wiping out the Pistons. With less than a minute left, Ron Artest shoved Ben Wallace in the back as Ben was going for a shot. Wallace turned around and shoved Artest in the face, and Artest staggered back. He eventually ended up on the scorer's table, lying on his back like he was relaxing.
Both benches emptied, there was a lot of pushing and shoving and general mayhem. The refs, incredibly, didn't have Wallace and Artest removed from the court, and eventually Artest, being a hot dog, grabbed a radio headset and started giving an interview while still lying on the scorers table.
That set Wallace off again, and he threw a towel at Artest, hitting him in the head. Things got tenser again, and Ben threw his headband toward the stands. I remember watching the headband fly through the air. At that point, this was probably the nastiest basketball fight I had ever seen in person, but that was it. It happened on the other end of the court and I was just trying to keep track of things for Larry.
Oh, yeah. Since it was a big game, both Larry and I were there. So he was in our front-row seat next to Mahorn, and I was sitting behind him in the second row of media seats. That got very important.
As I watched the headband fly, I saw motion out of the corner of my eye. I turned that way, and to my horror, Artest had charged into the stands and was trying to kill some guy. Seconds later, he was joined by Stephen Jackson, who laid out a guy with one punch. Instead of being at the other end of the floor, this was now happening a few feet away from me.
The second row of the media is back against the old hockey boards, so we were basically trapped. We couldn't go forward and we couldn't go back. It is a hard process even getting in from the sides, and that's not with massive NBA players going over you and around you and things flying through the air.
I was trying to duck and help protect Dana, who was right next to me. At some point, I got pushed into the table, which tipped over, sending laptops, phones and TV monitors crashing to the ground. Dana was begging Chauncey Billups not to go into the crowd, telling him it would only make things worse.
By this point, the arena was in utter chaos. We didn't see a lot of the stuff live, being worried with the insanity in our immediate area, but Jermaine O'Neal sucker-punched one fan, and could have easily killed him. Morons dumped beer and threw ice at the Pacers players and coaches, and one fucktard threw a chair.
Eventually, the floor was cleared and the game was officially ended. Dana and I went to the back, and then I headed for the Pacers lockerroom, where I listened to one of their assistant coaches try to talk the police out of arresting O'Neal. Within a few minutes, the media was removed from the area, except for Jim Gray of ESPN, which pissed me off no end.
Eventually, a decision was made to get the Pacers out of there. No players were arrested, but there is a good chance that warrants may be issued in the next few days after the TV tapes are reviewed by the police and by the Oakland County Prosecutor's office. I also expect that there will be charges filed against some of the fans that were involved, if they can be identified on tape.
There was also an incident in the tunnel, off-camera, where O'Neal allegedly injured a fan with a punch. That happened right in front of at least one police officer, and was what they were going to arrest him for, not for the incident caught on camera.
Obviously, we were never allowed to talk to the Pacers players, and the Pistons were told not to talk to us. They all left the arena staring straight ahead, not even acknowledging our questions. The only person that we talked to was Larry Brown, who called it the worst thing he has seen in his 40+ years in basketball.
I finally left the arena about 1:20, but Dana and I spent another 15-20 minutes talking in the parking lot. We were basically in shock. The last time I can remember something like this, other than a couple minor-league hockey games, is the time in the 1970s that several of the Boston Bruins went into the stands at Madison Square Garden in New York.
There's a lot of blame to go around. Artest started the incident with a chickenshit flagrant foul at the end of a blowout. The refs should have gotten him and Wallace off the floor immediately. Wallace should have not thrown the towel. Obviously, the fan shouldn't thrown the glass of beer at Artest, which is what sent him into the crowd in the first place. And after the Pacers went into the crowd, the behavior of many fans were utterly inexcusable. People talk about the "mob mentality", and how people do things they would normally never do, but it's terrifying to be in the middle of it.
Still, given all that, there's just no excuse for Artest and Jackson going into the crowd and attacking fans. They had no way of knowing if the fans they were engaged with had anything to do with the stuff that was being thrown.
I have no idea what happens next. There are going to be long suspensions - the Pacers' three best players are looking at possibly missing 15-20 games or more. They could also be facing criminal charges, as well as probable (definite?) lawsuits.
For the Pistons, I suspect that Ben Wallace will get 3-5 games, and Rasheed Wallace might get suspended for going into the crowd, even as a peacemaker. Six Pistons - Chauncey Billups, Darvin Ham, Darko Milicic, Derrick Coleman, Antonio McDyess and Elden Campbell - are also facing automatic one-game suspensions for leaving the bench during the original altercation. Tayshaun Prince was the only Piston smart enough to stay on the bench, so he should avoid any punishment at all. Smush Parker, Rip Hamilton and Lindsey Hunter were in the game, and shouldn't get suspended, unless Rip gets a game for shoving various Pacers during the first fracas.
(and no, they won't suspend everyone at once - they will stagger things so that the team can put a reasonable squad on the floor for every game. Usually, it is 2-3 people per game, done in alphabetical order.)
It's 3:24. I've been home for a little more than 90 minutes, and the adrenalin is just starting to wear off. I was supposed to go to the Science Center tomorrow with Angie and Britt, but that's off now. I'll be at Pistons practice at 11 am, and quite possibly at AHPD HQ at some point for a press conference. I'm hoping that I'll be able to go see a movie with them tomorrow night.
I'm just glad I got through it healthy - it could have easily been a lot worse. And, for all my doubts about myself at times, I did my job very well tonight.
What an unbelievable night.