The Indiana Pacers' Ron Artest, Stephen Jackson and Jermaine O'Neal were given what amounted to a slap on the wrist yesterday -- each receiving one year of probation, 60 hours of community service and a $250 fine -- for their involvement in one of the ugliest brawls in the history of professional sports last November in Auburn Hills, Mich.
Michigan District Court Judge Julie Nicholson also ordered Jackson and O'Neal to undergo anger management treatment. Artest, the central figure in the Nov. 19 melee between Pacers players and fans of the Detroit Pistons at the Palace of Auburn Hills, went through a similar program to complete his requirement for reinstatement into the NBA.
The three players pleaded no contest to misdemeanor assault and battery charges earlier in the day. While a no-contest plea is not an admission of guilt, it is treated as such during sentencing. The maximum sentence for misdemeanor assault is up to 93 days in jail and a $500 fine.
Prosecutors sought probation and community service instead of jail time for the players.
The brawl began with 45 seconds left when Pistons forward Ben Wallace shoved Artest following a hard foul. After the players were separated, Artest laid down on the scorer's table and was hit with a cup thrown by a fan. Artest immediately charged the stands, setting off one of the most violent exchanges between players and fans in memory.
Artest received the largest non-drug related suspension in league history when NBA Commissioner David Stern benched him for the final 73 games. Jackson got 30 games, O'Neal 25 and guard Anthony Johnson five.
O'Neal's suspension was later reduced to 15 games by an arbitrator and upheld in federal court.
The suspensions were much costlier than the punishment received in court. Artest lost about $5.4 million in salary, O'Neal lost $2.7 million and Jackson lost $1.9 million. O'Neal told the Associated Press that the community service would not be difficult. "I really get into it," he said, before getting into a stretch limousine.
"I've lived the life that many of those kids live. I guess that community service just comes easy for me."
Pacers center David Harrison, who was not suspended by the league, will have a pretrial hearing on Oct. 3. Johnson pleaded no contest to a misdemeanor assault charge last week. His sentencing hearing will be Oct. 7.