David Stern

NBA Presser On Indiana Pacer and Detroit Piston Player Suspensions

delivered 21 November 2004

Audio mp3 of Address


Commissioner Stern: Thank you for coming on short notice. We've previously issued a statement, but for those of you who haven't received it, I will read its essence and then take any questions that you may have.

Today, I announced the following suspensions resulting from the actions at the Indiana Pacers and the Detroit Pistons game on November 19th.

- Indiana's Ron Artest has been suspended for the remainder of the season.

- Indiana's Stephen Jackson has been suspended for 30 games.

- Indiana's Jermaine O'Neal has been suspended for 25 games.

- Indiana's Anthony Johnson has been suspended for 5 games.

- Detroit's Ben Wallace has been suspended for 6 games.

- Detroit's Elden Campbell and Derrick Coleman and Chauncy Billips have each been suspended for one game for leaving the bench during an on-court altercation.

- And Indiana's Reggie Miller has been suspended for one game for leaving the bench during an on-court altercation.

The penalties issued today deal only with one aspect of this incident -- that of player misconduct. The actions of the players involved wildly exceeded the professionalism and self-control that should fairly be expected from NBA players. We must affirm that the NBA will strive to exemplify the best that can be offered by professional sports and not allow our sport to be debased by what seem to be declining expectations for the behavior of fans and athletes alike.

There are other issues that the NBA must urgently focus on at this time and we will. First, we must redefine the boundaries of acceptable conduct for fans attending our games and resolve to permanently exclude those who overstep those bounds. Quite simply, participants in and around the court must be assured complete protection from unacceptable fan behavior.

Second, we must reexamine the adequacy of our current security procedures in Detroit and our other 28 arenas. The actions at Friday's games [sic], though unprecedented must now be factored into all efforts to guarantee the well being of our fans and players and all in our buildings.

Finally, we must develop and implement new NBA rules to assure that the unavoidable confrontations likely to occur in the heat of competition are not allowed to escalate to the level we witnessed on Friday, even prior to the egregious behavior by individuals in the stands.

I'm happy to answer any questions.

Moderator:  All right guys. As usual, raise your hand, I'll take you on you. Wait for the boom mike and identify yourself and name and affiliation. Darren?

Question: Commissioner, Jeremy Schatt [sp?] from ESPN. What was your personal reaction when you saw for the first time what happened Friday night?

Commissioner Stern: I would say shock and revulsion and fear were my reactions to watching the spectacle that occurred on Friday night at the Palace at Auburn Hills.

Question: Liz Robbins, New York Times. Can you discuss how the decision came about to suspend Ron Artest for the entire season. Was that unanimous? And can you discuss why?

Commissioner Stern: It was unanimous: 1-0.

Question: Can you discuss the reasons for the entire year...?

Commissioner Stern: I guess I would -- I don't mean to make light of it -- it's my decision and I decided it and I spent the weekend reviewing more angles and tapes and replays than I have, I think, in many years combined. And we conducted and had the results of another something in excess of interviews of employees, players, referees, attendees. And at the end of that investigation, it's my responsibility to decide on penalties for player conduct -- and this is the one that I decided on. We have to make the point that there are boundaries in our games and that one of those boundaries which is, has always been but hereby announced to be immutable, is the boundary that separates the fans from the court. And players cannot lose control and go into the stands. And we have to -- there's a corollary which is we have to hold fans accountable for their anti-social behavior as well. Exactly how that will be done is something we will undertake to study and implement. But if anything can happen here that's good -- although we didn't ask to be at the epicenter of this discussion, we now, I think, are going to be in a discussion about what we're going to tolerate with respect to fan behavior, what we're going to tolerate with respect to player behavior, and what we now deem to be adequate security procedures to protect both. And, here we go.

Question: [inaudible] Fox Five Sports. You talked about looking at the security situation and all of your arrangements. What can you do immediately to address that?

Commissioner Stern: Well, we're in touch with all 29 arenas to ensure that they have adequate security in place. But for Friday's events, we were under the steadfast belief that they did. And that may still prove to be the case, if the reality is that our society and our arenas exist based upon a social contract that if you've got -- everyone knows that if 20, 000 fans decide to go on a rampage, we'd have a serious problem on our hands -- no matter what we did. In addition, I think, no matter what security procedures you have in place you have run a risk that a player can jump into the stands or that the fans will behave in an anti-social basis. So, we just have to review all of the procedures and really, I think, begin anew to determine what the covenant of civil behavior in our arenas is going to be all about, because we cannot tolerate a repetition of what occurred Friday night in Detroit.

Question: Hi, David, Mitch Lawrence, Daily News. How much did Artest's history factor into your decision? (a) and (b) Is he going to have to undergo any type of psychological testing or do anything to prove to you that next year he can handle the role of being an NBA player coming back.

Commissioner Stern: I would say that to the extent that it was my decision, I did not strike from my mind the fact that Ron Artest has been suspended on previous occasions for the loss of self-control. In addition, I would say that each of the players are going to have to satisfy us that they understand the gravity of what they've done and that we have assurances that it will not be repeated by them. And that may take different forms with respect to different players, but this is something that will definitely be on an agenda. Frankly, we've got a lot of work to do in the next several days and coming weeks, but it is our practice and has been our practice to deal specifically with the discipline itself in a timely fashion, which we have. There may be other wrinkles. You know, I'm sure that someone's going to ask me about the salary cap or some connectivity like that, and I just want to make the point that this is about something much more profound and it was important for us to get this out. And to your point, we will be expecting the players do be able to assure us, in a manner satisfactory to us, that they're capable of accepting the professional guidelines that come from being and attached to being an NBA player -- which is the exercise of self-control and professionalism that was absent here.

Question: Commissioner Stern, Darren Rovell from ESPN.com. How confident are you that these suspensions will hold up?

Commissioner Stern: I'm confident, Darren, that these suspensions will hold up. But they were not made with that test in mind. They were made under my authority as commissioner to deal with on-court suspensions and misconduct and we're quite confident that they will be upheld.

Question: Mike Monroe, San Antonio Express-News. David, in that regard did you consult with Billy Hunter and do you feel you have his full support in this action?

Commissioner Stern: I would not put Billy Hunter at that risk -- to say that I feel I have his support and have consulted with him. I have informed Billy. He knows about this. I informed him before it was announced, and I didn't ask him for his support, although I do know, generally, how Billy feels about making the arenas safe for players and fans alike. I accept the reality that he has a job to do and constituency to represent, and I didn't try to in any way impinge or influence that. But I think that in light of our relationship and in light of the common concerns we have about our game, I accorded him the respect that he would accord to me of keeping him advised of what was going on and what the decision was going to be.

Question: Commissioner, Bob Grachowski [sp?], AP Radio. You mentioned that you had given some thought to Ron Artest's previous history. With that in mind, did you consider harsher sanctions against him.

Commissioner Stern: You know, I can't -- I can tell you that I couldn't factor out his previous history. And it it had been, perhaps, another person who had a different track record, might it have been different? I can't say for sure but I think it's a fair point to make that it might have been.

Question: Commissioner Stern, Mike Noble from CBS News. Yesterday there was another fight in a sporting event. The [South Carolina] Gamecocks versus the Clemson Tigers. There was quite a scuffle on the field. Coach Holtz got involved. Clemson coach Tommy Bowden has said he's blamed the aggressions on the brawl between the Pistons and the Pacers. He said for 24 hours they've watched this fiasco on TV, on every major news broadcast that thing was covered, and they sat there and watched it and watched it and watched it. Is there any comment regarding that and do you think that the brawl at the Pacers game may have had any effect on the Gamecocks and Clemson Tigers?

Commissioner Stern: Well I can understand a certain fatigue that came from the amount of times that this was run. It obviously made good copy. I counted in one news report that lasted 20 minutes -- I counted 16 repetitions of it. But in all deference to the coach on that one, you know the spectacle of state troopers having to separate college kids is part of the same problem that we're all dealing with is -- what is -- what's acceptable from players, athletes, and fans alike, and we'll deal with our problems and they should deal with their substantial problems.

Question: Commissioner Stern, Chris Palmer, ESPN The Magazine. What was the decision not to suspend Fred Jones who was about five or six rows up, right in the middle of all the ruckus and clearly left the bench? What's the decision not to suspend him?

Commissioner Stern:  A, I think he was in the game. I'm not positive. But B, we actually had -- the good news was there were players in the stands attempting to act as peacemakers. And if you're on the court and you're acting as a peacemaker --

Question: [off mic] ....

Commissioner Stern: Yes. All the players were interviewed. And -- hold on for a sec. But there's a -- for us, if you were on the court and you were -- or even, you know, we encourage players to act as peace makers. In fact, when I talk about additional rules, we have to find a way when an incident has stopped and there's an ample opportunity for tempers to cool down and things to end, we have to find a way to end it right there.

And that's the message that players who don't understand are going to get in a more -- in a firmer way, henceforth. I can tell you that because we definitely had certain flash points that could have been useful to avoid. And the context of our athletes standing there, screaming at each other across the divide of a single referee whose job it is to keep them apart and not removing themselves from a point of conflict, is just going to have to be addressed because obviously, whatever we do -- and I want to say something here on a very personal basis. It's really an apology of my own.

Whatever it is that we've been doing with respect to lowering the level of expectation with respect to events such as this, obviously, wasn't enough because it led to where we are now, and that means that this is the occasion for us to start again. I'll accept the responsibility. We patronize our athletes and our fans by accepting the fact that they should be allowed to engage in something less than civilized, you know, conduct. To watch the out of control fans in the stands to me was disgusting. It doesn't excuse what our players did in going into the stands, but we have to begin examining that and examining, okay, players. There's the unavoidable flare-up, but now what do we do -- because we're professionals and we understand that -- to calm it down? Rather than somehow expressing the misguided notion that the -- that receiving the adequate respect makes you, makes it necessary for you to place other people at bodily risk. It's not going to be tolerated. And it's -- and as a result, it's not going to be tolerated at its early stages, but there's if a flare-up, get it over with, and go -- and move away and move on. That's where we're going in the NBA. I don't know the specifics of it but that's where we're heading.

Question: John Weinstein, WNBC Sports. Commissioner Stern, are the Pistons as an organization going to be held responsible for the conduct of the fans in any way -- or the lack of security? Is there going to be something from the NBA?

Commissioner Stern: I'm not prepared to talk to the lack of security yet, and I don't know what the proper approach is with respect to the holding an organization accountable and in what way with respect to their fans. I would say now the entire league is put on notice, but based upon this unprecedented fiasco. And we're going to -- and we're on notice and we have the responsibility to come up with an intelligent response to it. As I said, we've got really here the beginning of our work and not the end of it.

Question: Just a clarification on the root of responsibility, a two-part question. First, the Pacers, do you have any disappointment in light of Ron Artest's history that they didn't do enough to monitor him and also a clarification on, do you think that the referees were at fault at this point in not controlling him?

Commissioner Stern: Actually the referees were in their right positions. You know, one standing back, another keeping the players away from the fray and the third right in the middle of it. I, you know, I made a reference earlier that in order to restore order at the college game, there seemed to be a battalion of state troopers, which is not something that we have gone to in the NBA, and I'm not looking to go to. We'd like to think that the civil contract that guides us in our games is such that we understand what may happen and can adequately deal with it. Obviously, we had a breakdown in Detroit on Friday. As it relates to the Pacers and Ron Artest, I would say to you that Ron is not been unwilling to seek to control his emotions and to, you know, and to exercise a kind of self-restraint and self-control and to seek assistance to do that, but unfortunately, whatever assistance he has received to this point, did not keep him from doing something that was unforgivable on Friday night.

Question: John Giannone from the Madison Square Garden Network. Commissioner, I'm wondering if there are any details that you can share about how you plan to better protect that "border" as you called it, between the players and the fans and might it involve any new policies toward the way arenas sell alcohol to time frames.

Commissioner Stern: I think that's an issue that we're going to have to examine with respect to alcohol service. I know that most of the companies that, you know, the beer companies do preach, you know, sort of responsible consumption, and we have to be in the position to ensure that we're not doing anything that goes against that tenet. And if that requires us to have a uniform policy on when beer sales are or aren't cut off, that's something that's got to be part of the mix. We have to look at everything.

Question: David, Mitch Lawrence, Daily News. Could you talk a little bit about the Jackson and O'Neal, the quantity of the games in terms of, did you see them going in? You talked about Jones as a peacemaker. They went in to fight. Is that the reason that these were --

Commissioner Stern: Well, in fairness, Mr. Jackson was well into the stands and he certainly -- anyone who watched any television this weekend understood that he wasn't going in as a peace maker. And Jermaine, I think it's fair to say, exceeded any bounds of potential peace-making with the altercation with the fan in which he was involved and his penalty would have been harsher had he succeeded in getting into the stands, which he tried to do but was restrained from.

Question: How much harsher?

Commissioner Stern: The question is how much harsher? I can't say. There's a -- I can't suggest to you that there's an exact science to this, but I'm given the responsibility to look at the tapes, understand what's in all of the interviews and then make a decision. And it's not to say that somebody else wouldn't have made a somewhat different decision, but that's just the responsibility that I have.

Question: How concerned are you about the boundaries that were crossed on Friday, or in your mind is this something that seriously was just an extreme as it possibly was, which was a one-time deal Are you extremely concerned of, perhaps, something flaring up like that again?

Commissioner Stern: I am less concerned in the future because whatever doubt our players may have about the unacceptability of breaching this boundary, they now know the line is drawn. And my guess is that it won't happen again, certainly not by anyone who wants to be associated with our league. But I think we have to move equally quickly with respect to fan behavior, and it's important that we not make that all of our fans, but there is an element out there that thinks that they can take certain liberties. That didn't used to be the case and we have to decide what the limit of that is, and it may be that we have to lose some fans and that's okay with me. We just have to come up with a process for making sure that it's properly done.

Moderator: We'll take three more [questions]....

Question: Commissioner, you said initially you reacted with revulsion and fear. Can you tell me, what do you mean by fear ? What were you - what did you fear?

Commissioner Stern: Fear that one of our players or one of the fans was going to be severely injured and permanently injured. When you see that kind of scenario unfolding, your fear is what are they doing? What are they allowing themselves to be set up to do, both to be injured and to inflict injury on others. It's a horrible scene and we -- it's our obligation to assure that it's not repeated.

Moderator: Two more. Start right there.

Question: Hi, I'm Thomas from Swedish Daily Aftonbladet. I have two questions. In Europe, this is a problem. We've found it's rather common. A very hard punishment, but that is used rather frequently, is that the teams has [sic] to play in an empty arena. That's happened in Italy in soccer games and stuff like that. And the second question is, you've been around for quite a while now. How would you react if this had happened this Friday? Was it the worst thing that's happened?

Commissioner Stern: I haven't done the computation, but I think I've been commissioner for somewhere in the neighborhood of 21 years, I don't know. You know, some of those were in smaller -- lower numbers of games and teams, but we probably between 20 and 25,000 games. This is the worst one I've ever seen in the NBA, period.

Number two, I'm well aware of the fact that there are times when fans are absented from soccer stadiums. If their behavior can't be guaranteed or the safety of the players can't be guaranteed, I would like not to think that that would ever come to pass in the NBA, but we'll do whatever is necessary to make sure that we set -- we exemplify the best of sports and not the worst of sports. That's what we're interested in doing. And if this event allows us to do that and to begin a dialogue in a broader basis, including with the coach who thinks that the college football brawl was because his young men were watching television too much instead of thinking about the game, that's okay with me. It may be that we can have something good come out of that, come out of this event, would be a good thing and that's what we would very much like to do.

Moderator: Final question.

Question: David, Mike Monroe, San Antonio Express News. Will the consideration of policies to protect players possibly include plastic barriers behind benches and so forth, as you see sometimes in Europe.

Commissioner Stern: I would like it not to come to that. You know that they're called "cagers" because the games used to play behind cages. I would like -- I don't -- it would not be my plan to be commissioner of a league that was sufficiently concerned in a society that required players and fans to be separated. That would be an unacceptable result. We have to do everything possible to redefine the covenant between players and fans and between fans and fans and make sure that we can play our games in a very welcoming and peaceful setting and that's what we're setting out to do. Thank you very much.

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