That was a slick production by the prosecutor in the Malice at The Palace. All that was missing was the buttered popcorn.
It was pure theater:
• Slide shots of the accused superimposed on a large screen over the sobering seal of the Oakland County of Michigan prosecutor’s office Wednesday in a nationally televised news conference.
• Slow-motion video showing the sequence of violence, from the droplets splashing out of the cup that hit Ron Artest to the punches thrown in the stands and on the court.
• The charges read ever so solemnly: Artest and Indiana teammates Stephen Jackson, David Harrison and Anthony Johnson, one count each of assault and battery; Jermaine O’Neal, two counts of assault and battery; five Detroit fans, assault and battery; one of those fans, a felony assault charge for throwing a chair; two other fans, citations for walking on the court.
What does it all mean? Probably nothing.
Don’t expect any of the players to spend a day in jail or suffer a minute of hard labor — even if the law says they could get up to three months in the slammer if they’re convicted of the misdemeanors. Backed by their cadre of attorneys, the worst the players probably will see is probation and a $500 fine.
Don’t expect the fans to get much more punishment, either, though two could face jail time. Prosecutor David Gorcyca singled out John Green as “the one that’s most culpable” for throwing the cup at Artest and sparking the brawl. Green, who has a prior criminal record, faces two assault charges.
Green’s lawyer, Shawn Smith, called the charges against his client “outrageous and the worst kind of politics.”
The scene at the prosecutor’s office did smack of politicking, but it wasn’t nearly as outrageous as the behavior in The Palace that could have led to far stiffer charges if anyone had been hurt seriously.
One of the so-called fans, Bryant Jackson, was charged with felony assault for throwing a chair into the fray. The felony carries up to four years in prison, though Jackson could face more time because he has a prior criminal record.
For all the attention this brawl brought, it’s doubtful that the penalties and the lessons learned so far are making an impact on other players and fans.
But therein lies the problem. Too many players and too many fans think they have the right to do anything and say anything they want, as if the money they make or the money they pay gives them that right.
It was a petty incident that came close to being very serious. Attitudes have to change, and it will take more than suspensions and misdemeanor charges to change them.