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David Stern NBA Press Conference




/ Nov. 22, 2004

NBA Commissioner David Stern Press Conference Concerning Suspensions From Altercation During Detroit-Indiana Game

November 21, 2004 -- Thank you for coming on short notice. We previously issued as statement, but for those of you who havenít received it, I will read its essence and then take any questions you may have.

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

Indianaís Ron Artest has been suspended for the remainder of the season;
Indianaís Stephen Jackson has been suspended for 30 games;
Indianaís Jermaine OíNeal has been suspended for 25 games;
Indianaís Anthony Johnson has been suspended for five games;
Detroitís Ben Wallace has been suspended for six games;
Detroitís Elden Campbell and Derrick Coleman and guard Chauncey Billups have each been suspended for one game for leaving the bench during an on-court altercation;
And, Indianaís 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 Ė 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 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 bounds 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 re-examine the adequacy of our current security procedures in Detroit and our other 28 arenas. The actions at Fridayís game, 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.

Iím happy to answer any questions.

Q: What was your personal reaction when you saw for the first time what happened Friday?

David 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.

Q: Discuss how the decision came about to suspend Ron Artest for the season. Was it unanimous?

David Stern: It was unanimous Ö 1-0.

Q: Can you discuss the reasons for the entire year?

David Stern: I donít mean to make light of it, it was my decision. And I decided it. I spent the weekend reviewing more angles and takes and replays than I have in many years combined, and we conducted and had the results of another something in excess of interviews of employees, players, referees, attendees. At the end of that investigation, it is my responsibility to decide on penalties for player conduct and this is the one I decided on. We have to make the point that there are boundaries in our games and that one of those boundaries, which has always been but is 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. Thereís a corollary, which is we have to hold accountable for their antisocial behavioras well; exactly how that will be done is something that we will undertake to study and implement. But if anything can happen here thatís good Ė although we didnít ask to be at the epicenter of this discussion Ė we now, I think, are going to be in a discussion about what we are going to tolerate with respect to fan behavior; what we are 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.

Q: What can you do immediately to address security issues at the arena?

David Stern: Weíre in touch with all 29 arenas to ensure that they have adequate security in place, but for Fridayís event, we were under the steadfast belief that they did, and that may still prove to be the case. The reality is that our society and our arenas exist based upon a social contract that if youíve got ... everyone knows that if 20,000 fans decided to go on a rampage weíd 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 run a risk that a player can jump into the stands or that fans will behave in an antisocial basis. So, we just have to review all of the procedures, and, really, I think begin anew to determine what that 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.

Q: How much did Artestís history factor into your decision and is he going to have to do anything to prove to you he can handle being a NBA player?

David 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 theyíve done and that we have assurances that it will not be repeated by them. That may take different forms with respect to different players, but this is something that will definitely be on an agenda. Frankly, weíve 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 Ö Iím sure that someone is going to ask me about the salary cap, or some connectivity like that, and I just want to make the point that is something much more profound. It was important for us to get this out. And to your point, we will be expecting the players to be able to assure us in a matter satisfactory to us, that they are capable of accepting their professional guidelines that come from being and are attached to being an NBA player, which is the exercise of self-control and professionalism that was absent here.

Q: How confident are you that the suspensions will hold up?

David Stern: Iím confident 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 weíre quite confident that they will be upheld.

Q: Did you consult with Billy Hunter and do you feel you have his support?

David 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 didnít ask him for his support; although, I do know generally how Billy feels about making the arenas safe for players and fans alike. But I respect the reality that he has a job to do and a constituency to represent and I didnít 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.

Q: Did you consider harsher sanctions against Artest?

David Stern: I can tell you that I couldnít factor out his previous history, and if had been, perhaps, another person who had a different track record here, might it have been different? I canít say for sure but I think itís a fair point to make that it might have been.

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Q: Clemsonís football coach blamed the fight his football team had with South Carolina on the Friday night fight, saying his players had watched it over and over for 24 hours. Do you have a comment? Do you think the brawl at the Pistons' game may have had any affect?

David 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 think I counted 16 repetitions of it. But, in all deference to the coach on that one, the spectacle of state troopers having to separate college kids is part of the same problem that we are all dealing with: Whatís acceptable from athletes and fans alike? Weíll deal with our problems and they should deal with their substantial problems.

Q: What was the decision not to suspend Fred Jones, who was also in the stands and clearly left the bench?

David Stern: A) I think he was in the game; Iím not positive and B) we actually had Ö the good news was there were players in the stands attempting to act as peacemakers. And, if youíre on the court and you are acting as a peacemaker Ö

Q: Were the players interviewed?

David Stern: Yes, all the players were interviewed and Ö but, for us, if you are on the court ... and we encourage players to act as peacemakers. In fact, when I talk about additional rules, we have to find a way when an incident has stopped and there is 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 is a message that players who donít understand are going to get in a firmer way henceforth, I can tell you that. Because we definitely had certain flashpoints 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: Itís really an apology of my own. Whatever it is that weíve been doing with respect to the level of lowering the level of expectations with respect to events such as this, obviously wasnít enough, because it led to where we are now. If that means that this is the occasion for us to start again, Iíll 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 conduct. To watch the out-of-control fans in the stands, to me was disgusting. It doesnít excuse what our players did in going into the stands, but we have to begin examining that and examining -- ok, thereís the unavoidable flare up, but now what do we do, because we are professionals and understand that, to calm it down rather than somehow expressing the misguided notion that receiving the adequate respect makes it necessary for you to place other people at bodily risk? Itís not going to be tolerated and as a result itís not going to be tolerated at its early stages. When there is a flare up, get it over with and move on. Thatís where we are going in the NBA. I donít know the specifics of it, but thatís where we are heading.

Q: Are the Pistons as an organization going to be held responsible for the lack of security or the fans in any way?

David Stern: Iím not prepared to talk to the lack of security, yet; and I donít know what the proper approach is with respect to holding an organization responsible with respect to their fans. I would say now the entire league is put on notice based on this unprecedented fiasco and we are on notice and we have the responsibility to come with an intelligent response to it. As Iíve said, weíve got really here the beginning of our work and not the end of it.

Q: The Pacers, do you have any disappointment in light of Artestís history that they didnít do enough to monitor him. And do you think the refs were at fault?

David Stern: Actually, the referees were in their right positions, one standing back another keeping the players away from the fray and the third right in the middle of it.

I made a reference early 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 are not looking to go to. Weíd like to think that the civil contract that guides us in our games is such that we understand what may happen and that we 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 has not been unwilling to seek to control his emotions and to exercise self-constraint and self-control, and to seek assistance to do that. But unfortunately, whatever assistance he has received up to this point did not keep him from doing something that was unforgivable Friday night.

Q: Are there any details about how you plan to protect that border between the players and fans and might it involve any new policies toward the way arenas sell alcohol?

David Stern: I think thatís an issue that we are going to have to examine with respect to alcohol service. I know that most of the companies that ... the beer companies do preach sort of responsible consumption and we have to be in position to assure that we arenít doing anything that goes against that tenet. If that requires us to have a uniform policy on when beer sales are cut off, thatís something thatís going to be part of the mix. We have to look at everything.

Q: Talk about the level of suspensions for Jackson and OíNeal.

David Stern: Well, in fairness, Mr. Jackson was well into the stands and he ... certainly anyone who watched any television this weekend understood that he wasnít going in as a peacemaker. Jermaine, I think it fair to say, exceeded any bounds of potential peacemaking with the altercation with the fan in which he was involved. And his penalty actually would have been harsher had he succeeded in getting into the stands, which he tried to do but was restrained from.

The question was how much harsher? I canít say. I canít suggest to you thatís thereís an exact science to this, but Iím given the responsibility to look at the tapes, understand whatís in all the interviews, and then make a decision. Itís not to say someone else wouldnít have made a somewhat different decision, but thatís just the responsibility that I have.

Q: How concerned are you with the boundaries that were crossed?

David 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 it wonít happen again; certainly not by anyone who wants to be associated with our league. I think we have to move equally quickly with respect to fan behavior. Itís important we not make that all of our fans, but there is an element out there that thinks it can take certain liberties. That didnít use 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 thatís ok with me. We just have to come up with a process for making sure that it is properly done.

Q: What did you mean by fear when you were talking about your initial reaction?

David Stern: Fear that one of our players or that 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 injuries on others. Itís a horrible scene and itís our obligation to ensure that itís not repeated.

Q: Would you consider playing games in empty arenas like they have sometimes done in Europe with soccer games? And how would you rank this as far as the worst you have seen?

David Stern: I havenít done the computation, but I think Iíve been commissioner for somewhere in the neighborhood of 21 years Ö I donít know, some of those were in smaller, lower numbers of games and teams, but itís probably between 20 and 25,000 games Ė this is the worst one Iíve ever seen in the NBA. Period.

Number two, Iím well aware of the fact that there are times when fans are absented from soccer stadiums. If their behavior canít be guaranteed or the safety of the players canít be guaranteed, I would like not to think that that would ever come to pass in the NBA, but weíll do whatever is necessary to make sure that we exemplify the best of sports and not the worst of sports. Thatís what we are 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, thatís okay with me. Maybe something good coming out of this would be a good thing. And thatís what we would very much like to do.

Q: Would plastic barriers behind benches and so forth be a possibility?

David Stern: I would like it not to come to that. You know they are called cagers because the games use to be played behind cages. 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 thatís what we are setting out to do. Thank you very much.

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