Saturday, November 20, 2004

Mondays Off! Special NBA Melee Edition


What else is there to say? Well, plenty--but "wow" covers a good majority of it, no matter how jaded a sports fan you may be. I've never seen anything like what happened at the Palace at Auburn Hills last night, even from a league which has featured, in recent memory alone:

-A star player (Latrell Sprewell) literally choking his head coach (PJ Carlesimo)

-A head coach (Jeff Van Gundy) grabbing a player's (Alonzo Mourning) leg and being dragged around the court in an attempt to intervene in a fight

-An elite player, and the face of the league (Kobe Bryant) being charged with rape

-A star player (Sprewell again) rejecting a $40 million contract offer because he has "a family to feed"

-One heir apparent to the Bird-Magic thrones (Carmelo Anthony) wiggling out of drug charges by letting a friend take the rap, while the other heir apparent (Lebron James) celebrated the birth of his first illegitimate child

-The Defensive Player of the Year (Ron Artest) asking his head coach (Rick Carlisle) for time off due to fatigue from promoting his rap album.

I've watched all this happen. And yet last night I stood, jaw dropped, and stared at my television, as one after another, millionaire man-children leapt over rows of seats to engage dozens of drunk fans in violent physical altercations. I won't excuse anybody from blame for what happened, but I will make some observations:

Observation One) Ron Artest is clearly imbalanced, and not in a funny way. I truly believe that he suffers from some serious emotional problems. Everybody knows it, and so everybody tries to provoke him. Last night Ben Wallace, frustrated from being dominated all night by a physical Pacers team, blew his top after a clean, hard foul by Artest. Kudos to Artest for keeping his cool after an unnecessary shove and some tough talk from Wallace. It even appeared that, after the incident, as Artest lay on the scorer's table, that he was making real effort to keep his composure, possibly doing some sort of therapy-introduced exercises.

Observation Two) Kudos again to Ron Artest for going into the stands fully intending physical harm on the person who threw a full beer at him as he lay peacefully on that table. The NBA will certainly come down hard on Artest--perhaps harder than it's come down on anyone ever--but if the security at the Palace won't send a message that it's not okay for drunk morons to assault the players they pay to see, then maybe Artest should. A man who just walked away from a fight should have the right to calm himself down without getting pelted by beer. And a man who pelts a larger man with beer had better be ready to throw down. That's just a law of nature. Drunk morons feel invincible enough without the added security of knowing that they can do and say whatever they want to these players without suffering the repercussions. Well, maybe if that guy had known that he might have to stand toe-to-toe with Ron Artest, he wouldn't have thrown that beer.

Observation Three) The league is going to have to send a message here, and unfortunately Artest is going to be the main victim. If he is suspended for less than 25 games, I'll be shocked. He might even be done for the season. David Stern has been looking for any reason to get rid of this guy, and fighting with fans is certainly reason enough. I would imagine at least 10 to 15 games each for Jermaine O'Neal and Stephen Jackson, and there's no telling what else will come out after the video is thoroughly reviewed. If not criminal charges, civil charges are likely for those three--as one player who watched the game on TV noted, "you don't think some of those fans aren't going to want some NBA money?"

So what can and should we take from all of this? First, in a situation where seemingly everyone loses, the clear-cut winner, despite appearances, is the NBA. The scenario harkens back to something Mavs Owner Mark Cuban said when the rape charges were first brought against Kobe Bryant: “From a business perspective, it’s great for the NBA. It’s reality television, people love train wreck television and you hate to admit it, but that is the truth, that’s the reality today.”

He was right then, and his argument applies again here. The fallout from the Kobe debacle included the complete dimantling of the Lakers and Shaquille O'Neal switching coasts. So how did David Stern, who said at the time that Cuban's comments were "both misinformed and unseemly," further express his disapproval? By scheduling the first meeting between the Lakers and Heat on Christmas day, of course. Despite his public outrage, Stern knew, just as any good entertainment businessman knows, that Cuban was right: "in this country notoriety sells." Oh, and by the way, wanna guess who else plays on Christmas day? You got it--the Pacers and Pistons.

So who's the clear-cut loser? How about the Pacers, who are now almost guaranteed to lose Artest, O'Neal, and Jackson for significant periods of time, virtually killing their chances for a top seed in the playoffs.

It'll be riveting to follow the ramifications of this episode. Stay tuned to Mondays Off! for continuing coverage. See you next time, and try not to throw any beers at anybody until then.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

The Factor is unfortunately a huge Pacers fan :

So Artest's done for the year, JO until mid January and Jackson until the end of January. But as a Pacers fan, I have confidence. Especially after watching the Pacers' bench punk up on the sorry Celtics (is it alliteration if the words start with two different letters?) last night. If the young guys can pull the season out at close to .500 ball, things will really pick up when Jackson and JO are back in time for Valentine's. That leaves a solid four months of basketball for the Pacers to come back. Mix in that the already deepest bench in the NBA will be that more battle tested to and the chip that the Pacers will be playing with on their respective shoulders and you have one dangerous basketball team. Screw Karl Malone, we don't need him.
"Karl Malone say, 'Don't be scared of ghosts, they might be spooky, but they don't bite.'"
Did anyone catch the "YEAH, Ben Wallace is going to kick your sorry little -- OH DEAR GOD I'M GOING TO BE KILLED!!" look on the face of the fan that Artest tackled? I've never seen a man go from completely entertained to abjectly horrified so quickly. Artest was already on top of him before he even knew what was going on. Now that's high comedy.
And did anyone hear about the rap sheet on the dude that tossed the brawl-enciting beverage (does it count as alliteration if it's a hyphenated word?)? The dude had more DUI's than Leonard Little. Not to mention assault charges. If they're going to take Artest's history into account, they should take that punk's into account as well.
All-in-all, I still feel good about the Pacers season. If they sneak into the playoffs as a six or seven seed, they could do some serious damage. Look out Miami and Detroit, your path to the Eastern Conference championship isn't paved yet.

And yes, Indiana and basketball optimism go hand in hand.

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