Charlotte Hornets rookie P.J. Hairston was charged with assault and battery on Monday following an altercation during a Durham, N.C., pickup basketball game in which a 17-year-old alleges the former Tar Heel and D-League guard punched him.
Hairston, 21, was not arrested in connection with the incident, but was issued a summons by Durham police on Monday that requires him to appear in Durham County Court on Aug. 8 to face the misdemeanor charges.
Hairston's agent, Juan Morrow, told Yahoo Sports NBA columnist Marc J. Spears that Hairston did hit Northern Durham High School rising senior Kentrell Barkley during a heated pickup game at the Durham YMCA, but claimed that his client was retaliating to the 17-year-old throwing the first punch in what he termed a "minor altercation."
Barkley offered a different rendition of the events, telling Spears that Hairston punched him twice — once while driving to the basket, and again after he'd approached Hairston after the first punch — and that he never swung on the former University of North Carolina guard. More from Barkley, via the Charlotte Observer:
“We had not been arguing or talking or anything,” Barkley said. “We were just playing basketball.”
Barkley said he had responded to a Hairston comment before the alleged first blow.
“We were playing and he said to one of his guys, ‘He can’t go right. He always goes left,’ ” Barkley said. “I said, ‘I just went right.’ That was all I said.
“They inbounded the ball to him and he ran right at me. He made a fist and hit me in the forehead. He went ahead and scored at the other end.
“Then I went up to him and asked him what that was all about. I didn’t cuss him or anything. Then he punched me in the neck. I didn’t hit him or even throw a punch. I was stunned. There had been nothing to provoke it.”
Barkley elected to file a police report against Hairston after the incident, but the nature of the dispute led local officials not to arrest Hairston.
"If two people get into a fight in North Carolina and there is no serious injury and is not witnessed by an officer, our hands are tied," Paul Sherwin, the public information officer for the Durham County Sheriff's Office, told Steve Reed of The Associated Press. "We don't charge people in [unwitnessed] fistfights. They have to file a report with the magistrate office."
Hairston offered a vague comment on the matter via Twitter on Monday morning:
His next vague comment came Monday afternoon on Hornets masthead.
“I want to apologize to the Hornets organization and our fans for creating this distraction," Hairston said in a team-issued statement. "As this is now a legal matter, I cannot comment on the situation any further. I am truly sorry for any embarrassment that I have caused.”
That was preceded by the Hornets' own no-comment comment.
“The organization is aware of the charges filed against P.J. Hairston regarding yesterday’s incident," the team said. "It is a legal matter and we will have no further comment until the legal process has run its course.”
That's likely to be the case for the NBA, as well. In the past, the league has tended to wait until the conclusion of legal proceedings before settling on any sort of punishment for players or coaches who run afoul of the law. (Case in point: waiting until after then-Brooklyn Nets head coach Jason Kidd had pleaded guilty to driving while impaired, more than a year after his initial arrest while he was a player for the New York Knicks, before suspending him for two games last season.)
The 6-foot-6 Hairston played two years in Chapel Hill, leading the Tar Heels with 14.6 points per game on 39.6 percent shooting from 3-point land during a 2012-13 sophomore season that saw UNC roll up a 25-11 record before losing to Kansas in the NCAA tournament. His off-court issues began in the summer after his breakout sophomore campaign, with a June 2013 arrest for possession of a small amount of marijuana and driving without a license. A handgun and ammunition were subsequently found outside the car, which had been rented by convicted felon Haydn “Fats” Thomas; Hairston had also received a speeding ticket the previous month while driving another rental car registered to a woman with the same address as Thomas.
The charges against Hairston stemming from the June arrest were dropped on July 19. Nine days later, he was pulled over for speeding and reckless driving after being clocked at 93 miles per hour in a 65-mph-zone, prompting North Carolina coach Roy Williams to suspend Hairston indefinitely.
The incidents — and especially the rental-car relationship between Hairston and Thomas, which the NCAA categorized as an impermissible benefit — led the NCAA to revoke Hairston's eligibility. Ultimately, North Carolina decided it would not seek reinstatement for Hairston, ending his college career with the Tar Heels. Hairston decided to turn pro and enter the NBA Development League, and was promptly claimed by the Texas Legends, the Dallas Mavericks' D-League affiliate.
He averaged 21.8 points, 3.5 rebounds and 1.5 steals in 32.3 minutes per game for the Legends, shooting 45.3 percent from the field and 35.8 percent from the 3-point line in 26 appearances, including 15 starts; after that strong showing, he entered the 2014 NBA draft, where the Miami Heat selected him with the 26th overall pick before shipping him to Charlotte — along with No. 55 overall pick Semaj Christon, a 2019 second-round pick and cash considerations — in exchange for UConn point guard Shabazz Napier.
Hornets general manager Rich Cho and head coach Steve Clifford said the organization had done their homework on Hairston's past and present, and felt comfortable making him a part of what the franchise hopes will be a bright future. Hairston, for his part, seemed to take ownership of the situation in which he put himself after his selection.
“There was nobody else to blame," Hairston said after the Hornets drafted him, according to Rick Bonnell of the Charlotte Observer. "I put myself in that situation, and I had to pay the consequences ... It was up to me to turn it all around — that I was able to overcome what’s happened in the last 12 months."
In light of this latest incident, many will question whether Hairston truly has turned it all around, or whether his strong and quiet stint in the D-League was more the exception than the rule. For now, though, all Hairston can do is work to get his on-court career off to a better start with the Hornets' Las Vegas Summer League team while wait for his day in court.
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