There was a Joel Pett cartoon. In it, a white man and a black man were sitting in a bar. Both had beers. On the TV above them was an image of a man in a black hood being held hostage with a knife at his throat by a man in a turban with a beard. Above them, the word IRAQ. The white man looks at the brotha with the caption above his head: "Violence ... bombings ... shootings ... beheadings ... still, it beats watching the NBA."
It's five months later. And in all honesty, all is forgotten. But not behind us. Friday's game between the two teams that changed the NBA is one that shows how far the league the nation has come in a short amount of time. For once, let's hope, the game that the Pacers and the Pistons play in a few hours will be about basketball ... and nothing else.
But that would be wishful thinking, right? Too much like right, right? Because of the way we are wired, because we saw the images over and over and over (and over) again, because talk radio and dotcom columnists refuse to leave it alone, the fact that Ron Artest did an Officer Lawrence Powell will never extinguish itself from our psyche any time we see Indiana pinstripe blue inside an Auburn Hills, Mich., arena.
The initial game between the two teams that were supposed to battle for the Eastern Conference crown (who knew that Miami would ball like this?) reshaped the way the world looks at the game of basketball. Who knew, like the cartoon, the game would be on TV with reasons not necessarily connected to basketball? Who knew, like the cartoon, that the game between Indiana and Detroit would be no joke?
Jermaine O'Neal asked the question: WWYD?
What would you do?
I'd do exactly what he did. I'd do the exact opposite. We all would. And that's where we are as the game approaches. Confused. Partially pharisaical. trippin'. It's been easy to take stands on all issues connected to what happened the last time these two teams played each other in Detroit. It's been easy to cast judgment on all who were involved. It's been easy to find both fault and reason. The one thing that has not been and never will be easy is going back and answering O'Neal's question. Because in all honesty, none of us knows.
Jon Saraceno of USA Today wrote: "Sorry, but I hold professional athletes, particularly nowadays because of the exorbitant salaries, to a much higher standard." Jay Mariotti, of the Chicago Sun-Times, straight called Ron Artest a "spoiled brat." Billy Hunter said: "The players are being vilified. Even if David [Stern] is not doing it directly, his suspensions are seeding negative stereotypes. The underlying message he is sending which is false is that the athletes are overpaid, spoiled and self indulgent." Ken Shropshire, author of "In Black and White: Race and Sports In America," said about the issue: "Look at what Jackie Robinson had to endure. For three years, he never went into the stands and the abuse hurled [at him] at that time was more severe. A small percentage of the fans have forever done the wrong thing. It's up to the individual athlete to decide to do the right thing." Or do the riot thing.