Sports Arena

You’re Under Artest

Making contact in Detroit.

By 11.21.04

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"You gotta remember, this is a town where they set fire to each other's houses for Halloween."

Uncle Pundit was reflecting on the NBA's donnybrook in Detroit where a hard foul in the final minutes became the Sarajevo incident that flared into near warfare among the Detroit Pistons, the Indiana Pacers, and the "fans."

Yes, but you should remember it was Ron Artest's foul of Ben Wallace under the basket that got things going.

"Not exactly. The refs had already called a foul. It was Wallace's reaction, jumping up and pushing Artest in the face so hard he nearly went down. But look, nobody's really going back to the beginning. They're all on Artest's case 'cause he climbed into the stands and tried to whack somebody who threw a drink into this face while he lay on the scorer's table, trying to stay out of it."

Well, they got four guys suspended "indefinitely," says the Commissioner.

"That was indefinitely until they figured out what to do, how loud the public yelled. So Stern decided Artest is suspended for the rest of the season. His antagonist, Wallace, gets suspended for just six games. In all, 9 players get 143 game suspensions. As you know, Artest wanted time off to pursue his music career, anyway. Stern had to do something before the ESPN video of the fight came out on DVD. I even heard some guy in South Carolina trying to blame the Detroit fracas for the field fight between Clemson and S. C. the next day. That the college boys were somehow inspired, or inflamed, or something."

You mean he thought the Detroit thing was something they'd want to emulate? And they are really attending institutions of higher learning? But football's different, a contact sport.

"Supposed to be. But so's the NBA, and getting more so. They let it go now. You can post up with your behind and knock some guy into the second row. It's been a contact sport for some time. Lemme read you something."

Okay.

"Ready? Here goes: 'As long as the league continues to view the game as a "contact" sport, a philosophy which in my view is highly questionable, violent fouls will continue to go undetected. This philosophy maximizes rather than minimizes the potential for violent reaction.'"

Okay, who? Somebody from Amnesty International?

"That was Kareem Abdul Jabbar. The old Lew Alcindor. And he was speaking in 1977, the year he got fined for smacking a guy, but more important, the year Kermit Washington of L.A. decked and damn near killed Rudy Tomjanovich of the Houston Rockets."

Oh, yeah. They wrote a book about it, The Punch.

"Yeah, and I bet that Feinstein guy, a fast writer, has already got a few galleys down on this Detroit mess. Probably calling it "The Punches."

The Tomjanovich thing was serious, near fatal, wasn't it?

"Hospital for two weeks. Touch and go. Know a reporter who says they called the hospital the next day and the Doc says, 'it's serious. If he lives, he'll be little more than a coach.' "

Not funny. What're they goin' to do about Detroit?

"Got a million instant solutions. Ban beer...or rather limit it to, say, the first half. Build a barricade between the fans and the floor. Get more security. Maybe recall the Iraq contingents for duty at NBA sites. I got a sure-fire cure but I don't think Stern'll buy it. Since it comes from the NFL."

Okay. Shoot, as they might say.

"You get this blonde babe from 'Horny Housewives'--"

Excuse me. That's "Desperate Housewives."

"Whatever. This Nicollette Sheridan babe. The one who gave Terrell Owens a hard time..."

I'm saying nothing.

"And you have her with her towel stand there at courtside throughout the game. And if at any time things begin to get outta hand -- well, you can guess."

She drops the towel?

"Naw. She puts on the towel. Fun's over."

Might cause more trouble than it cures.

"Well, then, there is always this. Listen to guys like Jabbar. Go back to the origins of basketball, when it was a sport that anybody could play, a non-contact game that valued speed, ball-handling ability, and a shooter's eye. Being tall helps, but then it helps in everything except marbles."

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About the Author

Reid Collins is a former CBS and CNN news correspondent.