When you take a long, emotionless look at it – which is what first David Stern and later a Michigan court surely will do – the fault for the wildness that erupted at the end of the Indiana Pacers' victory at the Detroit Pistons on Friday will land at the feet of one guy, Ron Artest.
The Indiana forward made a serious and intolerable (no matter how understandable) mistake when his reaction to getting hit with a cup of beer was to hunt down the perpetrator.
Enraged, he climbed over press row, jumped the hockey boards and proceeded to attack a spectator in the stands. A near-riot broke out afterward.
It is an act that no athlete should ever, ever engage in, no matter how much a fan may deserve it.
To make matters worse in this case, no camera angle or eyewitness account I am aware of suggests that the fan Artest got a hold of – the guy in the black shirt – threw the beer.
That guy seems way too far away to even make the throw. ESPN's Jim Gray reported it was the fan with the white hat, which seems plausible since he later punched Artest from behind. And if you watch closely, the moment Artest grabs the guy in the black shirt, it is clear the fan is holding his drink in his left hand.
This looks like an innocent bystander.
Which is why David Stern has two choices. He either turns a deaf ear to all of the hysterical apologists out there and slaps Artest with a historic suspension, or says that when players are confronted by one out-of-control fan they have the right to charge into the stands and beat the hell out of the first guy they see.
Know this: When the video is played in the calm of a courtroom, Artest had better hope the guy in the black shirt was double fisting or he is cooked.
Teammate Stephen Jackson won't fare much better. After the black shirt's friend understandably threw a drink at Artest in an effort to stop the attack, the eager-to-fight Jackson raced over to throw a sucker punch that his career and bank account are likely to regret.
On a side note, Jermaine O'Neal can thank his lucky stars that his front leg slipped on the wet floor when he later threw that running haymaker at the clueless fat guy in the Pistons shirt who had gotten into it with Artest. Watch that punch again on the video. If O'Neal's left leg plants and he gets full force behind the punch, that fan gets hit harder than Rudy T.
The entire episode made for impossible-to-ignore video and will keep the chattering class going just as the Terrell Owens-"Desperate Housewives" debate was playing out.
But in the end this has to go back to Artest's reaction. Not to excuse the original beer-throwing hooligan (here is hoping he's arrested), but nutcase fans are nothing new. Artest isn't the first athlete to get hit by a beer.
None of the real craziness happens if Artest doesn't blow his stack. Everything dies down if Artest doesn't break the cardinal rule of athlete/fan interaction – no touching. This is nothing more than a satisfying victory for the Pacers if Artest acts like a professional.
NBA player is one of many jobs in which restraint is a prerequisite. Police officers deal with it on a nightly basis. Ditto for bartenders, bouncers, soldiers and so on.
The public occasionally may be drunken, pathetic idiots who lash out full of the courage that comes from the crowd. Getting hit with a beer may not be fun. But sadly that is one of the tradeoffs of the job.
When a fan crosses the line, you leave it up to security, you press charges, you turn the other cheek. No matter how tough that is.
You never, ever go into the stands to attack a fan. Ever.
Because you might punch an innocent person, incite a riot, break the law, get sued and give your sport as black of an eye as it's seen.
If David Stern doesn't want to teach Ron Artest that lesson, the legal system almost assuredly will.
- David Stern
- Ron Artest