After dealing with a pandemic for more than a year, sports fans all over the country are again being allowed to pack stadiums and arenas. Whether that’s good or bad can be debatable, as far as the NBA might be concerned, as five fan incidents have taken place during the past week.
These events have brought back memories for Metta Sandiford-Artest, who was involved in one of the most infamous incidents in NBA history.
“For me, this kind of woke me back up to talk about this,” Sandiford-Artest told Bally Sports on Monday.
Later that day in Washington, there was yet another problem: A fan ran onto the court during Game 5 of the 76ers-Wizards first-round playoff series, jumped up and touched the backboard before being tackled by a security guard. Fortunately, the referees stopped the game before he had a chance to interact with players.
The first of these “fans behaving badly” scenarios took place last Wednesday in Game 2 of the 76ers-Wizards series, when a 76ers fan dumped popcorn on Wizards star Russell Westbrook as he was headed to the locker room after an injury in Philadelphia. That was followed up the same night by a Knicks fan spitting on Hawks guard Trae Young during Game 2 of their series in New York, and in Utah, Grizzlies star Ja Morant said his family was harassed by Jazz fans in the stands.
Things got uglier Sunday in Boston, when a Celtics fan threw a water bottle that nearly hit Nets guard and former Celtic, Kyrie Irving, in the head.
That fan, identified by Boston police as 21-year-old Cole Buckley from Braintree, Mass., was charged with assault and battery by means of a dangerous weapon. He will be arraigned Wednesday in Boston Municipal Court. As for the others, a total of five fans were banned from their respective arenas by the Knicks, 76ers and Jazz.
Sandiford-Artest, who played 18 years in the league, was watching Sunday's Nets-Celtics game and reflected not only on what’s going with fans at NBA games today but how it also took him back to 2004.
“I know you can’t throw things, but I also know Kyrie played in Boston. I like Boston. I don’t think it's as much racism as it is salty fans are upset that Kyrie is not there,’’ Sandiford-Artest said. “I love NBA fans, but you also have to protect the players.
“I love how Kyrie, Westbrook and Trae responded. But what happens if they get really upset? Fans gotta be aware and control themselves and enjoy the game. It's becoming a habit.
“This s**t all happened in one week.’’
Sandiford-Artest’s comments carry a lot of weight. After all, he was involved in the “Malice at the Palace” on Nov. 19, 2004, when he was known as Ron Artest and played for the Pacers.
With only 45.9 seconds left in the game, and the Pacers leading 97-82, Artest fouled Detroit’s Ben Wallace hard as he was attempting a layup. Wallace shoved Artest after the foul and a fight broke out on court that eventually spilled into the stands. Order was somewhat restored and while Artest was lying down on the scorer’s table to cool down, a fan threw a drink that hit him in the chest, which started another melee forcing the referees to end the game.
Following the game, the NBA suspended nine players for a total of 146 games and it cost the players $11 million in lost salary. Additionally, five players including Artest, were charged with assault and eventually sentenced to a year of probation and community service.
Artest was suspended for the remainder of the 2004-05 NBA season without pay for his part in the altercation. His suspension – the longest for an on-court incident in NBA history – totaled 86 games: 73 regular season and 13 playoff games.
“I took the bulk of the punishment because I was the first as an NBA player; someone hit me and I retaliated in an unprofessional manner,” he said.
“I feel a certain way about it. I was highly upset when I got hit. Black and white media were painting a bad narrative about me. People always say I attacked the wrong person. As my name is brought up in this, I'm trying my best to hold my composure.”
Sandiford-Artest says he lost $10 million that season, which included all endorsements, and he estimates that he lost anywhere from $50 million to $100 million during his career because of that incident.
Ironically, Sandiford-Artest stays in contact with John Green, the man who threw the drink at him at the Palace at Auburn Hills after his therapist advised him to do so.
“As humans we make mistakes that have to be addressed,” Sandiford-Artest said. “Me and the guy are friends now. I reached out to him and we became friends. I don’t bring up race. Nobody ever talks about the fact that I’m cool with the guy now. He and I talk about once a month.”
Irving’s issue with Celtics fans is a lot more delicate and dates back to his exit in free agency, with fans booing him even when he wasn’t in the building last season. In December, on Irving’s first return to TD Garden, he was seen burning sage around the court before the game to “purify the atmosphere.”
“Kyrie played in Boston and a lot fell into place,” Sandiford-Artest said.