Earlier this month, the Indiana Pacers benched player Ron Artest for two games for making a ridiculous request for time off to promote an upcoming rap album. I suspect that after his exploits last evening in Detroit as the game against the Pistons came to a close, management is wishing that it had granted the request. After being involved in an on-court shoving match with Ben Wallace of the Pistons, Artest was hit by a beverage thrown by someone in the stands. Artest charged into the stands and started swinging at the Detroit fans, followed by his teammate Stephen Jackson.
What we are witnessing is the collision of two deplorable phenomena in sports: the lack of class and sportsmanship on the part of some players and the unchecked stupidity on the part of some spectators.
For me, the low point in sportsmanship was Roberto Alomar's spitting on an umpire late in the 1996 baseball season, coupled with the remarks he made about the umpire's son afterwards. His career in the major leagues should have been over right there--a lifetime suspension from the playing field (but with no particular implications for the Hall of Fame). Artest should be done for the season, at the very least. There is no reason not to make an example out of him. Artest is a talented player, but he's eminently replaceable. Best of luck with your rap career, Ron.
The low point in spectator behavior had to be two years ago in Chicago when this father and son duo ran out of the stands during a White Sox-Royals game and attacked the Royals' first base coach from behind. The two of them should have gotten jail time (like the 2 to 5 years prosecutors requested), but in a sentence handed down about a year after the assault, the father was given only time served, counseling, parenting classes, a curfew, and probation. What a joke. Those two, like anyone at the Pacers-Pistons game identified as having incited that riot, should be sentenced to jail time. Again, there is no reason not to prosecute to the fullest extent of the law.
NBA commissioner David Stern described last evening's incident as, "shocking, repulsive, and inexcusable." He should stick to that description--this incident calls for more than small fines and temporary suspensions. The league should also use this incident as an occasion for a fundamental change in the way the NBA markets itself. Here's what I would do. I would reserve the first dozen or so rows around the court for free tickets for local school or youth groups. Groups would qualify for the tickets based on their community service and other charitable works. The league and the teams could partner with community organizations and local corporations to donate the tickets. There are over a million kids between the ages of 5 and 17 in the Detroit metropolitan area. They should be the ones watching the games up close. No alcoholic beverages, no unchaperoned rowdiness, and nothing but positive reinforcement for the players from the kids who idolize them.