Two Detroit Pistons fans allegedly involved in last month's brawl between members of the Indiana Pacers and spectators at the Palace of Auburn Hills were banned indefinitely yesterday from attending any more of the team's home games in the latest step taken by the NBA to clean up the public relations wreckage from the melee.
The fans, John Green and Charlie Haddad, were informed via registered letter that their season tickets would be revoked and that the Pistons would refund their money, according to Matt Dobek, a team spokesman. Managers of the Palace of Auburn Hills, the Pistons' home arena in suburban Detroit, also banned the men from attending events at other venues operated by the Palace, such as DTE Energy Music Theatre in Clarkston, Mich.
"There could be a lot more people banned," Dobek said. "We are still in the process of identifying people from the videotapes."
The Nov. 19 fight, believed to be the most violent clash between fans and professional athletes in U.S. history, has focused attention on fan behavior and has spurred the NBA to consider stricter standards. The fight has already led to the suspension of three Indiana Pacers -- Ron Artest (73 games), Stephen Jackson (30 games) and Jermaine O'Neal (25 games). Nine people suffered minor injuries and prosecutors have said that they will file charges against fans and athletes in coming days.
Police say Green, a 39-year-old contractor from the Detroit suburb of West Bloomfield Township, was seen on videotape throwing a cup that struck Artest, touching off the brawl. Later, Green was videotaped grabbing Artest from behind and slugging him. Oakland County Prosecutor David Gorcyca once lived in the same neighborhood as Green and identified him from the videotapes, police said.
Dobek said Green violated rules at the Palace -- similar to those at sports venues everywhere -- prohibiting fans from throwing objects. Haddad, who absorbed a wild right-handed punch from O'Neal, broke Palace rules by entering the court, Dobek said.
Green, who is on probation for driving while intoxicated, called Artest a thug in a television interview last week. According to a Michigan Department of Corrections online database, Green was charged in 1988 with assault with intent to do great bodily harm, as well as an attempt to escape from custody. In 1986, he was convicted of carrying a concealed weapon and check fraud, according to the database.
"If they ban me, they should ban Artest, Jackson and O'Neal" from the Palace, Green said last night during a phone interview. "Otherwise it's unequal, it's discrimination. If they go into the stands and beat people up, then they should at least get the same punishment as me. [The Palace] won't do it because those guys are elite athletes who make millions." Green said that in the letter from John Ciszewski, executive vice president of the Palace, he was informed that his name and picture will be circulated throughout properties owned by Palace Sports & Entertainment, the company that operates the Palace. He was also warned that he would be charged with trespassing if he entered the properties.
Green said he was angered by the media bringing up his past legal troubles. "Most of the charges against me were dropped and are 15 years old," Green said. "I've wrestled with an alcohol addiction but I've left those troubled times behind me."
Co-workers reached at Haddad's place of work, a pizza restaurant, said he was unavailable to comment.
In the aftermath of the fight, the NBA announced this week it is planning to set new stricter standards for arena security. Other than requiring clubs to place guards behind both benches and escort referees and coaches to and from the locker room, the league up until now largely has allowed individual clubs to decide how to secure their arenas.
"That's a whole subject that we have historically left to teams," NBA Commissioner David Stern told the Associated Press on Tuesday. "It's clear that's not going to be good enough anymore." The NBA plans to announce the new guidelines next month, Stern said.
Some teams are not waiting. One day after the brawl, the Washington Wizards entered and exited the court at Continental Airlines Arena in New Jersey with a protective canopy above their heads. And last week, the Toronto Raptors increased security at a midweek game against the New York Knicks, adding two police officers near the team bench and re-deploying other security elsewhere in the arena after a team employee read about a threat to Raptors guard Vince Carter on the Internet.
The NFL reminded its teams to maintain the league's security standards last week as a precaution. No new security measures were added. The league stressed existing policies regarding fan conduct and player safety during games.
The fight last month started with about 45 seconds remaining in the Pistons-Pacers game. Artest fouled the Pistons' Ben Wallace, who retaliated by shoving Artest in the chest. While several players pushed and shoved each other at midcourt, Artest reclined on the scorer's table, was struck in the face with a cup and then ran into the stands to attack a fan. Jackson followed his teammate into the seats and started throwing punches.