by Conrad Brunner
November 20, 2004
Calling the melee that erupted in the closing seconds of Friday night's game between the Pacers and Pistons "shocking, repulsive and inexcusable," NBA Comissioner David Stern today issued indefinite suspensions for Pacers players Ron Artest, Jermaine O'Neal and Stephen Jackson.
Detroit forward Ben Wallace, whose two-handed shove to the throat of Artest with 45 seconds left of the Pacers' 97-82 victory in The Palace of Auburn Hills started the chain of events that ended in chaos, also was suspended indefinitely.
"The events at last night’s game were shocking, repulsive and inexcusable --- a humiliation for everyone associated with the NBA," said Stern in a statement released by the league. "This demonstrates why our players must not enter the stands whatever the provocation or poisonous behavior of people attending the games. Our investigation is ongoing and I expect it to be completed by tomorrow evening."
All three players will miss tonight's game against the Orlando Magic in Conseco Fieldhouse. Stern said the ultimate length of the suspensions would be determined "upon completion of the investigation."
Pacers Sports & Entertainment CEO and President Donnie Walsh also issued a statement Saturday.
“A very unfortunate situation developed at Detroit Friday night," Walsh said. "After the initial encounter on the court, the players were under control. But as fans quickly became involved, the situation escalated. More specifically, the safety of everyone present was compromised, and that is of great concern for us.
“The league is reviewing the entire incident, and we recognize that responsibility for Friday night’s actions can be shared by many. It is up to all of us to make sure that a situation such as this doesn’t happen again."
Both men said security procedures would need review.
Stern also said "rules and procedures relating to altercations and security have been undertaken so that fans can continue to attend our games unthreatened by events such as the ones that occurred last night.”
Walsh said, "We continually strive for a secure environment and continue to review procedures on an event-by-event basis to provide a safe environment for patrons who attend an event at Conseco Fieldhouse.”
Wallace was responding to a hard foul from behind by Artest on a dunk attempt. After shoving Artest, Wallace stalked him to the sideline, but Artest retreated to the scorer's table, where he reclined and appeared willing to ride out the event peacefully. But when a fan hit Artest in the neck with a full beverage cup, the Pacers forward bolted into the stands. He was followed by Jackson. Both players became entangled with fans.
As the situation escalated, several fans took to the floor, where O'Neal became involved in an altercation. As players, coaches and staff made their way off the floor, they were pelted with food, beverages and bottles. At one point, a chair was launched toward the exiting players.
Auburn Hills, MI, police began an investigation on the scene but allowed the Pacers to leave the arena to board their plane for the return flight to Indianapolis. No charges have been filed.
The media was prohibited from entering either team's locker room afterward, but both coaches made statements. Pacers Coach Rick Carlisle said "I felt like I was fighting for my life out there." Pistons Coach Larry Brown said he'd never seen anything like it and that ie was "embarrased for our league."