With 45 seconds to go in the fourth quarter and the Pacers up by 15, Indiana's notorious star Ron Artest committed an excessively hard foul on Detroit's Ben Wallace.
The melee that ensued is being called the worst brawl in the history of professional sports. It was incited by the fuel of one fan's beer cup landing on the simmering embers of the fire which is Ron Artest.
Unless you've been living under a rock (or just never watch anything other than PBS), I'm sure you've seen the highlights of irresponsible players and rowdy fans engaged in an embarrassing display of irreverence and misbehavior. The incident exemplifies the exact opposite image the National Basketball Association (NBA) is trying to portray.
The punishments handed down by NBA Commissioner David Stern certainly helped to quell the potential uproar amongst the public. Artest was appropriately suspended for the season. Jermaine O'Neal and Stephen Jackson, two other Pacers who punched fans, were suspended for 25 and 30 games, respectively.
The only measure that seems excessive is Wallace's six-game suspension; he only scuffled briefly with Artest and never touched a fan.
Another troubling aspect of the situation is the comment Ron Artest made only a week before the brawl about his upcoming rap album: He asked the Pacers front office for time off sometime during the season to market the album.
One has to wonder how meaningful missing the entire season is to him and therefore how effective the punishment will be when he is essentially getting what he wants.
Furthermore, some have proposed that this brawl piques public interest for Artest and will actually help him market his album. Unfortunately, the league has no way to make sure he doesn't benefit from this. Hopefully, we as a society know better than to buy a CD because we saw the artist attack somebody.
Professional athletes should not be held to a higher standard than anyone else. They must, however, exercise restraint and not stoop down to a childish level when provoked by the fans, who were criminally out of line on Nov. 19. Before every game, the PA announcer asks fans to "please refrain from throwing anything onto the court; anyone who does will be escorted out of the arena and will face criminal charges."
Artest had no business going into the stands and personally trying to punish the coward who hit him with beer. That's what security is paid to do.
I know it is easy for me to criticize the players for their involvement. But the point is, the on-court fight should never have escalated like it did.
With Stern doing his part by sending the players a message, the Detroit police and other arenas around the country must now do their part in order to regain the trust of the players.
Not only should they arrest and press charges against the two fans who were directly attacked by players, but also the fans who dumped beer and popcorn on the players as they were leaving the court.
Arenas must double the amount of security in the stands and vastly improve their response to fan misconduct in order to protect the players. They too need to send a message that brawls such as this will not happen again.
To the casual fan, Artest's antics will no doubt cause them to question the heart, loyalty and dedication of NBA players as a whole and thus lose interest in the NBA itself. This is the last thing the league needs. Attendance has been on the decline since the players lockout in 1998; the Kobe Bryant trial hurt the NBA's image as well.
Stern should do whatever he can to shift the focus to superstars like Kevin Garnett, Tim Duncan and Shaquille O'Neal, players who display the admirable qualities that Artest and the others involved in the brawl so obviously lack: loyalty, hard work and passion for the game. These players should be the face of the NBA.
The fans violated their role as spectators, the players retaliated unnecessarily and security failed to do its job. All parties were in the wrong and the league must do everything it can to make sure a similar situation doesn't happen again.