• United States



by Jon Surmacz

Not All Fun and Games

Nov 23, 20043 mins
CSO and CISOData and Information Security

The brawl between professional basketball players and fans last week at The Palace in Auburn Hills, Mich. (home of the world champion Detroit Pistons) was as ugly as it gets. Fans were throwing ice, beer, soda, food and even a chair at players. World-class athletes were wailing roundhouse punches on fans landing blows on those involved in the fracas and on a few innocent bystanders. Security personnel, in way over their heads, struggled to get a handle on the situation. The scene was witnessed by millions on live television that night, not to mention the countless times the video was replayed on news programs over the weekend.

It happened like this: After a brief scrum with the Pistons Ben Wallace, Pacers forward Ron Artest mocked Wallace near the scorers table. Artest became enraged when a fan threw a cup at him. He vaulted into the stands and things got ugly.

Judgment by NBA Commissioner David Stern was harsh and swift. He suspended Artest, who has a history of acting out during games, without pay for the rest of the season (73 games, costing him $5,482,028 in salary).

Pacers guard Stephen Jackson, who followed Artest into the crowd, was suspended for 30 games, at a cost of $1,792,683 in salary. Pacers forward Jermaine ONeal did not enter the stands, but he was suspended 25 games ( $4,506,850) for clocking fans who rushed the court. Six other players (two pacers, four Pistons, including Wallace) received minor suspensions for their roles in the incident.

Meanwhile, law enforcement is looking into the matter. As of Monday, nine people had filed assault complaints with police. Prosecutors have identified John Green as the man who threw a cup at Artest, but they are still seeking the man who threw a chair into the crowd, which allegedly hit a 67-year-old man and knocked him unconscious, according to The Detroit Free Press.

The Pistons returned to the Palace Sunday night for a game against the Charlotte Bobcats. The number of uniformed police was doubled, and there were 20 percent more security personnel visibly stationed throughout the arena. There were no incidents, and the Pistons won in double-overtime.

Pat Wilson, president of the Palace, told the Detroit Free Press afterward, Lets not overreact to it. We cant get to the point where were keeping people from touching our players and high-fiving them as they come off the floor, getting autographs or having 2,000 kids come down for photo night. If you overreact, you turn it into a studio game, and thats not what NBA ball is about.

But questions remain. Why were fans on the court? What role did alcohol play? Were there enough trained security personnel to handle the job?

Macomb County Sheriff Mark Hackel, who trained Palace security in crowd control and the use of force, told the Detroit Free Press, In my opinion, thats a difficult expectation for a player to run into the stands and start whaling at people haphazardly. It is completely inappropriate to blame the Palace security.

What should be done to prevent something like this from happening again, at a basketball game, rock concert or other event where the participants and observers may come in close contact with one another? Can these events be made more secure without compromising their appeal? Tell us what you think.