How is it that so many people seem so intent on killing the goose that lays the golden egg? As a league, the NBA has survived drugs and violence, a strike and general stupidity. But the latest incident in Detroit gives the league a big black eye that won’t go away for a while. NBA Commissioner David Stern suspended Ron Artest for the remainder of the season and his Pacers teammates Stephen Jackson and Jermaine O’Neal 30 and 25 games respectively for their role in Friday’s melee. All three went into the stands after fans and caused the biggest flap the league has seen since, well ever.
When Kermit Washington hit Rudy Tomjonovich in the face, that was between two players. It was indicative of the undercurrent in the league at the time. Not a place for the faint of heart. But this is completely different. Artest had become a flash point in the league with his ridiculous and childish behavior on the court and his laughable recent request for some personal time to promote his rap album. He became the poster child for everything that the league is that people can’t stand. Boorish behavior by outlandishly wealthy athletes isn’t anything new, but Artest was taking it to all new heights.
“I’m a little worn out coach; can I have a couple of days off to promote my upcoming rap album?”
When Pacers coach Rick Carlisle heard that, I’m sure his first reaction was that Artest was kidding. But when he realized he was serious, Carlisle reacted just like he should have. He benched Artest for two games. When Latrell Spreewell said he “couldn’t feed his family,” on the $7 million a year the Timberwolves were paying him, the reporters laughed; until they realized he was serious.
Where do these guys get these ideas?
From junior high school, they’re pampered and coddled and told they’re the greatest in the world. And it continues as they get older. They surround themselves with people who tell them how great they are until they start to believe it. Nothing seems too outrageous to them. Even going into the stands to fight somebody who threw a cup of ice on them. The ground work had been laid for some sort of wild scene in the league involving Artest, but we thought it would be between Artest and another player, not some fans.
When Artest committed a hard (perhaps flagrant) foul against Ben Wallace, Wallace turned and shoved him, challenging him to some kind of fight. But Artest didn’t want any part of Wallace, and backed meekly off toward the scorers table. Who knows what was said over there, but whatever was going on lead to a cup of ice being thrown at Artest and the melee ensued.
Isn’t it ironic that Artest wanted no part of Wallace (who would have beaten him to a pulp) but was more than willing to attack some skinny guy five rows up? If two guys are playing in the park and one guy throws a cup of ice in another guy’s face, does that instantly lead to a big fight? And if so, when the guy who caught the face full of ice beats the other guy to the ground, what happens? He goes to jail is what happens, and that should be an option with Artest, O’Neal and Jackson and any other player who goes into the stands at any sporting contest.
Isn’t it ironic that Artest had his wits about him enough to back off from Wallace, but suddenly lost it when a fan was involved? Nobody has to draw the line for the players or the fans. The line is right there on the edge of the playing surface, no matter what sport is involved. Fans don’t belong in the game, and players don’t belong in the stands. The media promotes the notion that the fans are a big part of the game, that somehow they can have an effect on the outcome. But that’s from their seat in the stands. Players know the rules, and don’t try and pass off that “heat of the moment” argument.
No matter what the circumstances, if you’re life’s not threatened, stay out of the stands. All Artest had to do was point at the guy in the stands and security would have taken him away. But somewhere in his twisted thought process, Artest bought into his own thug fantasy. Maybe because he listens to rap music and recorded a rap album he fashioned himself as a tough guy. And maybe he is. But for now, he’s a tough guy without a job for the rest of the year and a reputation as a player who can’t be counted on as a teammate.
As the NBA teeters between sport and folly, Stern is trying to send a clear message. Hopefully the rest of the players are listening.