The NBA, Union Needs To Address The ‘Social’ Issues That Plague The Current ‘Game’

By Gregory Moore
Updated: November 23, 2004

Commissioner Stern & Billy Hunter

SAN ANTONIO, TX – Last Friday night’s brawl in Auburn Hills, Michigan is by far the ugliest situation I have seen from a fight during a game. In the eleven years that I have covered the league, I have never personally experienced, witnessed or seen via a broadcast the carnal wreckage that was later broadcasted nearly around the world hours later. As time has passed, we have all had a chance to digest the events that have unfolded in front of us. As many already know, I wrote a piece blaming the fans for culpability just as much as for Ron Artest and others. Yet I think I may have done the readers a disservice in my ‘rash to judgment’ article because I did not take into consideration EVERYTHING that needs to be looked at. In other words, I think that the league itself needs to do an internal audit as well as the player’s association, who needs to start realizing that sometimes you can’t fight fights that aren’t worth fighting. Let’s examine this whole situation more in depth and see if we, as fans, can see exactly where things currently lie for us as sports fans.

THE SOCIAL CLIMATE IS THE BEGINNING OF EVERYTHING HERE When I was beginning to write this piece, I was wrestling with a core of subjects that would best fit the title of this article. I had mentioned to a lady friend of mine that I wanted to do a piece examining Artest’s mental stature as it seems that he does indeed have some issues. She advised me that going that route would be to involved, messy and troublesome. So we talked for a bit and I asked her what were her thoughts on the subject matter. What she gave me was a complete list of what is going to be discussed right here; starting with the social climate of today.

Let’s look at how fans currently interact with sporting events in 2004. Today’s fans are an unruly bunch. I’m not talking about the millions who go to sporting events and are good hecklers. Those are the types of fans you want to have. They are having a good time and aren’t hurting anyone. The fans I’m talking about that have perverted the American sports scene are the obnoxious, arrogant, full of “liquid courage” morons who think that their ticket is passage to anything goes in the arena realm of sports. Where do I place partial blame for last Friday night’s fight? Try those fools who were full of the beers. There’s no mistake in my assertion on this fact.

Yet drunken fans are only a part of the problem here. Our society as a whole has been systematically dissected to where violence is a non-factor in what we see these days. As sports fans we see football and think nothing of the carnage that happens before our very eyes. If you are a hockey fan, it’s the same feeling. So when we watch a basketball game turn into a brawl, we really don’t think anything about it until it spills over into the seats of the spectators.

Look at what our social climate is for a moment. This is a society that has no problem showing sex and violence on over the airwaves channels. Even though they may give viewers warnings about the programming, it is still we are watching more violence now than we probably grew up with in our childhoods. Imagine what our children are seeing then? And we wonder why our kids play Halo 2 or Grand Theft Auto.

BELIEVE IT OR NOT BUT PARENTS HAVE SOMETHING TO DO WITH THIS I’m going to hit on a touchy subject but it has to be said since there is a correlation of this and the social climate aspect of the article. Ever ask yourself, “Why are fans/players so unruly?” I have and I don’t like the answer I keep coming up with. Many of the journalists today want to blame the players for their actions while many social columnists want to say that the fault lies within the social climate from the athlete’s upbringing. I would like to subscribe to the fact that the upbringing has quite a bit to do with how an athlete acts as an adult. If they are brought up where they don’t have any responsibilities and cannot be held accountable, then they will continue to live their life that way.

Now I’m not saying that Ron Artest and others are victims of hapless parental neglect. I have no idea what kind of childhood Artest and so many other athletes who get in trouble had as kids. I’m not going to just assume that everything is bad but then again I’m not going just dismiss this segment of my argument entirely. Those in the psychology world can understand where I’m coming from on this point. The behavior that you have as an adult is influenced by what you did as a child. I would have to believe that if this were the case, then that means that how you were brought up would also account for how you interact as an adult. Now does that mean that some of the skills that Artest should have learned as a child are missing? I don’t know. It could mean any number of things. What I do know is the following: Ron Artest has been crying out for help; that Artest needs help in getting his priorities in order; and that in order for him to be successful, the league needs to do something more than what they are doing for him right now.

But I’m going to stick to my first inclination as well. Where are Artest’s parental influences right now? Are there any family members who can speak directly to him and let him know that he has made some egregious choices in his life?

THE LEAGUE HAS FAILED ARTEST AND OTHERS With the social climate issues and parental concerns aside, let’s really focus on what could be a significant problem as I see it. Let’s strip away the fact that the league has come down hard on Artest because that is justified. Yet this isn’t the first sign of trouble that has come across David Stern’s desk. Last year aside, Artest has been a ticking time bomb just waiting to explode on somebody. Unfortunately he exploded in the stand stanchions at the Palace of Auburn Hills. So the question becomes this then: does the league have any culpability in what happened with Artest, his teammates and the fans? Yes they do and here is where that lies.

First of all let’s look at where the referees were during that time. Ron Garretson may be the son of a former NBA referee but he is a veteran referee who knows how to handle trouble when it comes into the game. If it is true what many reports are saying about the physical play, then Garretson and his crew are as culpable in this brouhaha as the spectator who threw beer.

Next let’s add to the line of culpability the security at the arena. How in the world did that fan get down to the floor to throw a drink in Artest’s face anyhow? Where was security on that side of the floor? If you ask anyone who has been to a San Antonio Spurs game, they will tell you that it is nearly impossible to get down on press row unless you got a ticket for a seat down there. In order for that fan to throw a cup of whatever into Artest’s face, he would have had to be able to slip past the usher/security person to do so. The Oakland County prosecutor can say that security wasn’t an issue but for that fracas to occur, somebody dropped the ball somewhere. Security around the players is a lot tighter than what I saw on the replays of the event. All I saw was chaos and it looked like nobody who was an usher wanted a piece of whatever was going down.

Finally I want to assert some of the blame can be placed on the player’s association. A union is to protect its members from wrongdoing by the employer but what of when an employee does something wrong? Should a union get on its high horse and try to assert that the punishment dealt by the employer is unjust? That is exactly the tactical line that the NBAPA wants to take in this case. Now Billy Hunter has every right to fight for his members but let’s be real about this situation. Just what is Hunter going to fight? If anything Artest’s actions show malice and that he simply did not want to adhere to any rules that were already in place? Going into the stands is a no-no and Hunter can’t argue that extenuating circumstances were the cause. Not if he wants to be taken seriously.

Also Hunter has to look at Artest’s previous actions. His mental health aside, Artest is still accountable for his actions. He’s accountable because he has the ability to be held accountable. That’s on him. The union has a duty to make sure that while Artest is on leave that they do whatever they can to help this young man cope in the real world. Is that the union’s responsibility? I think it is. I think that when something like this happens, it is the union’s duty to help the individual find answers to whatever problems they have. The union wants it for drug addiction and alcohol abuse so why not for mental illness?

In the end, as fans we are supposed to be able to go to a sporting event and feel safe about where we are at and know that the league has put on a good product worth viewing. Did Ron Artest give the NBA a black eye? Sure he did. There’s no disputing that. However in hindsight now, there are definitely some situations that need to be addressed by the NBA and the player’s association as to the validity of the product that is being produced. In the process they are going to need to start making sure that their employees can deal with the social issues of the day and that the league and/or union is equipped to deal with the problems that these individuals bring. The social ills of the day are out there and we can’t get away from them. The league knows this but the question is how many more Ron Artests are going to be thrown away before anyone in a position of power does anything to save these young men from these demons and themselves?