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ReGgieMiLLeR31
12-23-2004, 10:22 PM
Bird calls NBA suspensions 'excessive'

By JON KRAWCZYNSKI
AP Sports Writer

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) -- Indiana Pacers president Larry Bird was shocked by the suspensions commissioner David Stern handed out to his three best players, but also accepted blame for their role in the brawl with Detroit fans.

With the dust finally starting to settle on one of the worst cases of player-fan violence in U.S. sports history, Bird and Pacers CEO Donnie Walsh on Thursday evening reflected on a tumultuous 37 days since several Pacers players fought with Detroit Pistons fans on Nov. 19.

Two days after the melee, Stern suspended Ron Artest for the remainder of the season (73 games), Stephen Jackson for 30 games, Jermaine O'Neal for 25 and Anthony Johnson for five.

Walsh said that while sitting in his office on Nov. 21, he expected "big games. I think I would've said 30 or 40 (for Artest) and then 10 or 15 (for Jackson and O'Neal)."

"There was a rumor going around that it was 30-20-20 or 30-20-15, and I said, 'Wow man, he's really hitting these guys hard,'" Bird said. "That's excessive. But this? This is off the charts. This is a shocker.

"We all thought they were so excessive, but especially Ronnie's," Bird said. "We're talking about 70 games."

Arbitrator Roger Kaplan reduced O'Neal's suspension by 10 games, allowing him to play on Saturday in the rematch at home with the Pistons. The punishments for Artest and Jackson remained the same.

A federal judge upheld Kaplan's ruling on Thursday, and the NBA will have to wait until next Thursday to argue its case again.


"The team has spent the last month just basically trying to fight through an extremely difficult time," Walsh said. "Not just going out and playing games, being short-handed, but all this stuff flying around their head."

While Bird and Walsh both said they thought Stern's punishment was excessive, they didn't shy away from the players' culpability.

"Don't go in there. You don't do that. You do not go in the stands, for anything," Bird said. "Nobody ever sat us down (as players) and told us that, but we knew."

Artest bolted to the stands to chase down a fan who he thought hit him in the face with a plastic cup. Jackson followed him in, swinging wildly at fans who were assaulting Artest.

"We entered this not trying to throw blame on a lot of people, because we were wrong," Walsh said. "What we're trying to say is, we were wrong and we understand you had to act, but there were mitigating circumstances that could have mitigated the punishment you gave them."

It left Bird to think about what might have been.

"Had Ben (Wallace) and Ron squared off at center court and fought for whatever they fought for, 10 seconds, 15 seconds and both got suspended, it would have been the best thing that ever happened to this league," he said. "Nobody would have liked it, but they probably would have got five, 10 games maybe and then you move on."

Instead, the Pacers have stumbled to a 5-10 record without their top three scorers and enter Saturday's game against the Pistons at 12-12.

"You can't blame Stern for that, we got to blame ourselves somewhat," Bird said. "Guys did what they did."

2004 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed