by Conrad Brunner
Jan. 29, 2003
Indianapolis, Jan. 29, 2003 - Ron Artest acknowledged his mistake Wednesday, calling his dual middle-finger gestures during Monday night's 102-95 victory in Miami "horrible," but didn't anticipate the severity of punishment that was looming.
Shortly after Artest apologized for his actions in Wednesday afternoon press conference, the NBA announced a four-game suspension that will keep the Pacers forward off the court until after the All-Star break.
"First of all, I would like to apologize to all the little kids who've seen those gestures I made on TV," Artest said. "On behalf of me and on behalf of the person who filmed those gestures - those should not allowed to be shown on TV - that was the last thing I wanted to be shown on TV, those gestures I made. I definitely apologize to the fans and mainly to the kids. ...
"This was the biggest mistake I made, those two middle fingers. That was horrible. That can't happen again. That outweighs everything I ever did."
The NBA punished Artest for "confronting and making physical contact with Miami Heat head coach Pat Riley, taunting the Heat bench, committing a flagrant-foul penalty two by pushing Heat guard Caron Butler into the stands and making an obscene gesture towards fans," said the release from Stu Jackson, the NBA Senior Vice President of Basketball Operations.
The incidents occurred with 8:13 and 6:07 remaining, respectively, in the fourth period of the Pacers' 102-95 victory over the Heat at AmericanAirlines Arena on January 27.
After learning of the suspension, Artest issued a statement that said, "I'm very disappointed with the league's ruling. I don't think the suspension comes close to going with my actions. I thought I might get a fine, but not a game. I don't think four games is fair at all."
Though no mention of Artest's previous offenses was made by the NBA, it was apparent they weighed into the punishment. He was fined $10,000 on Dec. 19 for an altercation with Dallas' Raja Bell, and later fined $35,000 and suspended three games on Jan. 4 for destroying television equipment on his way to the locker room after a loss to the Knicks in Madison Square Garden.
Artest will lose more than $84,000 in salary during the suspension, bringing his cumulative financial penalty this season to more than $192,000.
"To be honest, I was taken aback by it because of the severity of the punishment," said team President Donnie Walsh. "I don't know that I can really rationalize why the punishment was that severe other than there's been an accumulation of events. That's not what they told me but it's more or less what I think. ...
"I was not expecting this punishment to be this severe and it kind of kicked me in the stomach when it happened. Whether it's fair or not, I think you have to talk to the league."
In addition to the fine, the NBA upgraded the Flagrant Foul to a Type II, which carries a two-point penalty, bringing Artest's season total to four. When a player's total exceeds five points, he faces a mandatory suspension of one or two games, depending on the severity of the offense.
Walsh said the franchise would continue to work with Artest on his anger management issues, a process that already includes regular sessions with the team psychiatrist.
"We love having Ronnie as a member of our team," Walsh said. "Ninety-eight percent of Ronnie Artest is positive, both as a person and as a player. Then there's two percent you wouldn't condone, he wouldn't condone himself, that he's apologized for, that you obviously wish he didn't do. If you dwell on the 2 percent, then you're not representing the guy the way he really is. But on the other hand, if you get up and say what a wonderful guy he is and all the things you feel very positive about him, people take it to mean you're condoning the 2 percent.
"I want to make it clear Ronnie's a member of our family. We love the guy. We love having him on our team. That's not meant by Ronnie or us to condone some of the situations he's found himself in, particularly the camera in New York and this example here. He's a very, very passionate player and that's one part of it I love. I love the fact he plays the game with passion in a time when not every NBA player plays with passion, and I think the fans appreciate that. What we have tried to work with Ronnie and will continue to work with Ronnie, is those areas where that passion kind of boils over and gets over the line, so to speak.
"I feel very bad for Ronnie because none of us expected a punishment this severe. When he comes back, I'm going to love him for the 98 percent, and we'll continue to work on the other 2 percent. But I'm going to continue to say I love having him on this ballclub.
Coach Isiah Thomas had little to say about the suspension.
"We will accept it and we will deal with it as the men that we are and the basketball team that we are," he said. "Other than that, I have no comment."
Thomas did respond, however, to suggestions by many in and around the league - including Dallas coach Don Nelson, who was quoted in a recent issue of Sports Illustrated - that the Pacers are a "dirty" team.
"Any time you're winning and you're winning the way we're winning, some people don't like it," he said. "I know from winning championships in this league, it's a very competitive league. When the Lakers were winning, Shaq was a dirty player. When we (the Pistons) were winning, we were dirty players. It's a competitive league and people say things and do things to get inside your team to try to knock your team off. We're a young team and we're trying to make our way through the league and carve out some turf in the league and our intent is to continue to do that. We want to win a championship and we're not going to stop trying to do that."
Walsh said Artest can appeal the NBA's ruling but that because of the nature of the process, "you can't stop the suspension from happening."
"I've made the phone calls," Walsh said, "and I don't expect this to be changed."