AUBURN HILLS, Mich. – Fists were flying. So were cups, plastic bottles and even a chair in one of the ugliest NBA brawls ever – and Indiana’s Ron Artest was right in the middle of it.
Artest and Stephen Jackson charged into the stands and fought with fans in the final minute of their game against the Detroit Pistons on Friday night, and the brawl forced an early end to the Pacers’ 97-82 win.
Officials stopped the game with 45.9 seconds remaining after pushing and shoving between the teams spilled into the stands once fans got involved by throwing things at the players near the scorer’s table.
“It’s the ugliest thing I’ve seen as a coach or player,” said Pistons coach Larry Brown, who was in the middle of the confrontation, trying to break it up.
After several minutes of players fighting with fans in the stands, a chair, beer, ice, and popcorn were thrown at the Pacers as they made their way to the locker room in one of the scariest brawls in an NBA game.
“I felt like I was fighting for my life out there,” Pacers coach Rick Carlisle said. “I’m sorry the game had to end this way.”
The Palace announcer said the game was being stopped and pleaded with fans not to throw things.
About three hours following the startling finish, Auburn Hills police walked out of a television trailer with videotapes gathered from various media outlets.
Officers interviewed witnesses at the arena in suburban Detroit, and planned to talk to the players involved.
“We’ll put it all together, take it to the Oakland County Prosecutors Office and have them review it and they’ll decide if there are any charges,” Auburn Hills Deputy Chief Jim Mynsberge said. “I hope we can do it before Thanksgiving.”
Mynsberge added: “At this time, we don’t have any indication of major injuries.”
It all started when Detroit’s Ben Wallace went in for a layup and was fouled hard by Artest from behind, and escalated when Artest stormed into the stands after being hit by a full cup.
After being fouled, Wallace wheeled around and pushed Artest in the face. The benches emptied and punches were thrown.
As the players continued shoving each other near center court and coaches tried to restore order, Artest sprawled out on his back on the scorer’s table, looking relaxed.
Just when it appeared tempers had died down, Artest was struck by a cup and beverage thrown from the stands. He jumped up, and charged into the stands, throwing punches as he climbed over seats.
Fans were punching back, and Jackson and another teammate joined Artest in the melee.
“I was worried about Stephen Jackson and Artest, as silly as they were acting,” Brown said.
Security personnel and ushers tried to break up the fighting. Former Pistons player Rick Mahorn, who was seated courtside as a Detroit radio analyst, tried to stop the brawl in the stands.
“The police investigation is ongoing and that’s it,” said Pistons spokesman Matt Dobek, who refused to further comment.
Detroit’s Rasheed Wallace and Indiana’s David Harrison were also in or near the stands. Both were trying to break up the fights.
Later, a man in a Pistons jersey approached Artest on the court, shouting at him. Artest punched him in the face, knocking the man to the floor before leaving the court. Artest was pulled away, and the fan charged back. Jermaine O’Neal stepped in and punched the man.
“The NBA is withholding comment until it can review the incident,” NBA spokesman Tim Frank said.
Players from both teams left the arena without comment.
Quentin Richardson of the Phoenix Suns watched the brawl on television.
“I have never seen a fight like that in a game since I was in high school,” he said. “Man, there are going to be some lawsuits. You don’t think some of those fans aren’t going to want some NBA money? “
Lamar Odom of the Lakers saw it for the first time as he was being interviewed.
“Whoooo. When you see things like that, just think about what it takes for NBA players to go into a crowd, ”Odom said. “Sometimes fans get kind of out of hand, but it must have taken a lot for NBA players to go into a crowd and start a fight.”
Police prevented reporters from crossing the loading dock to get to Indiana’s locker room or the area where the Pacers’ bus was located.
“I’m just embarrassed for our league and disappointed for our young people to see that,” Brown said.
Artest has been involved in some bizarre situations, but his latest antics topped them all.
Earlier this month, he was benched for two games for asking Carlisle for time off because of a busy schedule that included promoting a soon-to-be released rap album.
Artest also destroyed television monitors at Madison Square Garden two years ago and missed the team flight to Game 6 of the Eastern Conference finals at Detroit last season.
He has proved to be as talented as he is unpredictable.
Before the contest was stopped, Artest had quite a game and the Pacers were dominating the defending NBA champions in their first meeting since the Eastern Conference finals.
Artest scored 17 of his 24 points in the first quarter and the Pacers led by 20 in the second. Detroit used a 9-0 outburst early in the fourth quarter to close within 82-77.
The Pacers put the game away when Austin Croshere and Jackson made 3-pointers on consecutive possessions to push their lead to 12 points with 4:31 left.
Despite the lopsided score in the final minute, most of the key players for both teams were still in the game.
The contest drew a capacity crowd of 22,076, but it had thinned toward the end of the game as the Pacers pulled away.
Richard Hamilton led the Pistons with 20 points.
Indiana (7-2) has the best record in the East and the Pistons fell to 4-4.
The Pacers’ next game is Saturday night at home against Orlando. Detroit hosts Charlotte on Sunday.
Notes: Musical artist Kid Rock and Chris Chelios of the Red Wings sat next to each other at courtside. “That was unbelievable,” Chelios said after the game.
AP Corporate Archives contributed to this report.
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