Saturday, November 20, 2004



The sports world wants you to blame the fans for the nonsense that took place in Detroit (okay, Auburn Hills) tonight, but don't listen to those who try.

Yes, fans were taunting, smacking, and tossing food at NBA players tonight. Nobody there was going to get an A for deportment.

But ultimately, the riot that broke out was the result of a culture that puts a false pride above common sense and restraint. There were clear escalations and key moments when the mayhem could have been avoided.

Let's start with Artest of the Pacers. He fouled Ben Wallace of the Pistons pretty harshly, perhaps needlessly, considering that, with 45 seconds remaining in the game, there was nothing that would change the final outcome.

Let's continue with the first escalation: Wallace shoving Artest in the neck. Totally uncalled for. Let the referee call the foul, then smile smugly because you're the world champion. But no, he has to "prove" he's a man and take a cheap shot.

Then there were a couple of minutes of both teams facing off agaist each other. So everybody's testosterone was up.

During this, Artest inexplicably winds up on top of the scrorer's table to shake off the results of taking the force of an NBA player's weight to his windpipe. Here's where once again an NBA player had the chance to do the right thing and totally ignored it.

Some schmo in the stands decided that the best use of his cold, refreshing beverage in a souvenir cup was to hurl both at the supine Artest. Maybe it's someone with the talent to play in the NBA, because his shot was nothing but Artest.

Here's where you can choose to be rational or an animal. Artest chose animal. Instead of standing up and directing the security staff to the idiot who threw the cup so he could be ejected (and perhaps have his season tickets revoked), Artest jumped up and into the stands, whaling on the wrong spectator to boot. Instead of worrying about being "dissed" like the punks on the streets are always worried about, he should have been a man and just took it.

When a player goes into the stands, the entire premise of spectator sports disintegrates. In this case, Artest provoked four different reactions, none of which could possibly turn out well. (A thinking man might have realized this, if not in the heat of the moment, over time, with reflection.) First, he gave the involved spectators reason to want to strike him. Second, he gave other spectators reason to want to get involved by defending the original idiot(s). Third, he forces other players after him to defend him. And fourth, he causes the non-idiot spectators to get involved because they either need to break up the brawls or get away in an area where mobility is limited.

The broadcasters of the game immediately began to blame the fans, but when you are the focus of 38,000 eyes, what you do that's different is going to cause the spectators to behave differently.

Once players go into the stands, the spectators are at a disadvantage. They aren't seven feet tall, they don't carry 250 lbs. of muscle, so they can only respond by putting whatever they can between the goon and them -- tossing popcorn, soda, beer, whatever.

Ultimately, however, the players must take the bulk of the blame. Artest was not involved in self-defense; it was revenge. There is a distinction.

The first fan idiiot is not without blame, and he needs to spend some time in prison for assault and inciting a riot. But once Artest chased that idiot into the stands, all bets were off.

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