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Bob Hunt: Drastic statement needed for Pistons

BY BOB HUNT
Unleashed
Published November 24, 2004

Nearly a week later, I’m sure you’ve all heard just about everything you’ve ever wanted to hear about what happened at the Palace of Auburn Hills last Friday night. Now that the players and fans are being suspended, charged or sued over what occurred, there’s a lot of blame being thrown around.

But the question I have is: Where’s the punishment for the Pistons organization?

The team that hosted Friday’s melee should be accountable, too.

Yes, it is obvious that both the players and fans involved were to blame. Just because Ron Artest was hit with a cup of beer, that doesn’t mean that you can exude primordial rage upon everyone around you. No matter what former NBA player and ESPN commentator Tim Legler said afterwards about how “every player in the league would have done the same thing,” it’s clearly crossing the line. The same goes for Stephen Jackson going crazy and hitting everything in sight behind Artest.

The fans who threw things and, in an act of even more stupidity, ran onto the court should be punished as well. Which makes me think, who in the world would throw a $7 beer? I don’t care what you’re throwing at, that’s just plain dumb.

But the group that’s going to come away from this fiasco almost scot free is the Pistons and Palace management, even though they are just as much to blame. During the eight weeks of coverage ESPN has devoted to this (or at least it seems like eight weeks), how many security officers have you seen break up fights? Were they taking the night off?

With all the recent problems with fans attacking players in recent years combined with the Pistons’ fans reputation (remember the O, Canada! incident?), the Palace should have had at least some officers ready to diffuse any possible situation. I mean, I didn’t really see any officers help the Pacers players off the court when they were being deluged with everyone’s leftover concessions.

The Pistons should have just been thankful that most of the people who attended the game had already left. If Artest had jumped into a full crowd, things could have really gone wrong.

At U.S. Cellular Field — the home of the Chicago White Sox, where umpires and base coaches have been attacked by fans — serious measures have been taken. There, fans can’t even enter a level where they don’t have a ticket, and a line of security officers awaits anyone who wants to run on the field between innings.

While the Pacers’ season has been ruined, the Pistons will go on with their season relatively unharmed, with Ben Wallace receiving just a six-game suspension. Considering that both teams are to blame, this is unfair.

I realize that you can’t suspend Pistons players or force the team to forfeit games because that would hurt people who were not involved. But a severe message needs to be sent.

Like forcing the Pistons to play two games behind closed doors. No fans — just media, support personnel and a few people to keep the scoreboard running. A few million would be lost by the Pistons in the process.

What, you say? Have you lost you mind?

Not really, considering this exact thing happened just two weeks ago.

The Italian soccer club AS Roma had to play the first of two games in the European Champions League, Europe’s top club competition, in an empty stadium as a punishment for a fan throwing a coin at a referee and injuring him. Roma was also forced to take a 3-0 forfeit for the match.

And that’s the fourth time soccer a team in Italy has had to play behind closed doors, sending a message to the fans and hurting a team’s pockets. FIFA, the international soccer governing body, is thinking of doing the same to the Spanish national team, whose fans racially abused their visitors from England.

Although you may think that’s too severe, it would make a statement that no other punishment could. It would tell fans that their unruly behavior could hurt their favorite team. If that was a legitimate threat, I’d bet you wouldn’t see any fans running onto the court again.

As the NBA is attempting to globalize its game, it should really borrow from its potential future markets in making a bold statement.

It’s a move that surely wouldn’t be forgotten.

 

Bob Hunt can be reached at bobhunt@umich.edu.