Detroit Riots

riotI often avoid writing about the “big” topics of the day, because you’re gonna read all about it, facts and opinions, everywhere else. I can’t compete with espn.com, so I don’t try. In this case, I’m going to make an exception. I saw the Friday Night Fight not too long after it happened, and have had it bouncing around my head all weekend. May as well dump my thoughts here.
BTW, you can catch the video and some pics here.


First off, I want to see that as bad as this whole scene was, it wasn’t unthinkable. In fact, we’ve been building to this for a while. Fan behavior has been getting worse and worse over the years. At the same time, arenas have been putting more and more fans closer and closer to the field of play. There have been several less serious incidents in various leagues and arenas for years now. A brawl was inevitable.
In this case, the right ingredients happened to all be in the same place at the same time. The Perfect Storm of immaturity. You had two physical rivals meeting to establish regular season pecking order. You had the visiting team winning handily. You had an on-court altercation between the toughest players on each team. The player on the visiting team is perhaps the most volatile and least-liked player in the league. The situation was ripe for trouble.
I’ll walk through the progression of events.
The foul
Ben Wallace went up for a layup in the last minute of the game. The outcome of the game was no longer in doubt. Artest gave him a hard foul, swinging both arms down and catching Wallace in the head. It was definitely an intentional foul, but I’m not sure if it would qualify as flagrant, as Big Ben wasn’t flying down for a dunk or anything. To me, Artest was probably just trying to make a point – no free buckets against us, even when they don’t matter. It’s a point Wallace should understand – he’s committed countless similar fouls in his career.
The foul was unnecessary, but in today’s NBA, not that uncommon.
The reaction
Obviously, Ben Wallace didn’t take to kindly to the shot to his well-froed dome. He is used to being the intimidator, not the intimidated. On top of that they were losing, and of all people to hit him, it was crazy Ron Artest. So Wallace turned around and jacked Artest in the face and throat with both hands, sort of a cross between a shove and a punch. Not only that, but Ben wanted more. He went after Artest, while teammates on both sides separated them.
At this point, the refs should have jumped in and called double technicals. In fact they may have, but no one’s going to remember now.
The scrum
As is seemingly the script in the NBA, the two teams now got together for a bunch of jawing and shoving. Nothing too unusual. Clearly, Big Ben still wanted a piece of Artest, but Ron wanted none of it. Some people say it’s because he’s scared of Wallace. I think it’s more likely that he just wanted to avoid being suspended for the jillionth time. Guys like Ron Artest aren’t scared too easily. I think he also liked being the punk. He seemed to be smirking while watching Wallace try to get to him.
It was at this point that Artest laid down on the scorers table. He clearly was trying to achieve two goals here. He was making it very obvious that he wasn’t trying to fight – probably being as blatant as possible so that the league got the hint. He was also being a bit of a prick – showing off and basically saying “nyah, nyah, can’t touch me,” like an eight year old.
Evidently, Wallace didn’t like this act too much.
The towel toss
It seemed fairly benign at the time – the kind of thing that, again, happens all time. Wallace couldn’t get to Artest, so he threw a towel in his face. In most cases, that’s no big deal. In this case though, I think it was a key trigger. Fans on the other side of Artest were just as close to him as Wallace was. They saw the hated Artest lying there and were furious. They didn’t like him to begin with, but now he was just taunting them. Then, they saw Ben throw his towel at Artest. Click. Now the thought and precedent was out there. Obviously, for one person, that was enough. He (or she maybe) threw his beer.
And then all hell broke loose.
The first charge
From Artest’s standpoint, he felt like he was doing well. He had managed, for once, to avoid escalating a situation. He had resisted the urge to fight. I’m sure he was feeling pretty good about himself, but probably still full of adrenaline. He could hear the fans and Pistons all around him shouting at him, calling him every name in the book. For a guy like Artest, who can barely fight off the demons on a good day, this was remarkable restraint.
And then that cup hit him in the face.
Blacque Jacque ShellacqueNow when something hits you in the face, particularly when you know it was thrown at you, you get a charge of testosterone, of anger. You can literally feel it. In this case, it was the one critical chink in the faulty wall Artest had hid his anger behind. It reminds me of those cartoons where Bug Bunny blows up Blacque Jacque Shellacque by removing just the right rock. Once you weaken the critical part, the whole wall explodes with violent force. And Artest was off.
Unfortunately for everyone involved, Artest charged the wrong guy. A big clue should have been that the guy was still holding his beer, but Ron missed that. Lots of people are saying (and I think Jim Gray started this) that it was the guy in the blue shirt and white hat who threw the beer, but I’m not so sure. When Artest jumped up, that guy had his hands in his pockets. I’m wondering if it wasn’t actually the woman who was right there screaming at Artest.
Either way, Artest went after the wrong guy. It looked like the guy was just yelling at the wrong time (did you see his face when he realized what was happening?). Artest saw him and heard him and zoomed in. The thing is, he didn’t hit the guy – he just shoved him down, but by now everyone was too worked up. The crowd moved in, Stephen Jackson came flying in and popped yet another guy. Riot on, fists and beer everywhere.
As for the two tubby Hispanic guys who got hit by Artest and then Jermaine O’Neal – I say they got what they deserved. You simply do not go on the court or field and start yelling at players, particularly when there’s a brawl going on. When Artest turned on the first guy (and you could see the guy change his attitude pretty quickly at this point – too late) and then punched him, his buddy tried to tackle Artest. I think O’Neal saw that and came in and just nailed the second guy in the face. That dude might have had some injuries. I feel bad for those guys, but not too much. Once they crossed that line, they took their chances.
The aftermath
In the end, I think the NBA has taken the right steps so far. David Stern is a great commissioner and he’s showing why. His suspensions were very tough, but appropriate. He had to make a statement and do what he can to keep the players under control in the future.
The next step is Detroit taking steps against fans. They need to strip season tickets from every single person they can identify who was throwing anything or wading into the conflict. That was a disgrace and the team needs to do what it can.
For a legal standpoint, people need to be prosecuted. All those same cup throwers should be charged with inciting a riot. Anyone who threw a punch should be charged with assault. Anyone on the court? Trespassing. Make an example. Fans have GOT to learn that they are not part of the game. They have no business throwing stuff or going on the court.
I don’t think the city needs to prosecute the Pistons for fighting, but I won’t be surprised if they do. To me, the heavy suspensions are punishment enough, but I’m sure there are others who think otherwise, particularly that first guy who got jumped.
Lastly, the NBA needs to change rules and set some standards for fan behavior. They allow fans to get too close to the court and players. They also allow way too much verbal abuse. The ushers at all arenas should have the authority to kick out any fan who yells offensive stuff at any player, home or visiting. It’s just gotten too bad. People shouldn’t be afraid to bring their kids to games lest they learn some new words and physical acts. This is an opportunity to clean all that crap up. Just because you bought a ticket, you don’t have a license to be a subhuman.
Maybe, in the end, some good can come out of all of this.

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