'The whole thing has become such a circus'

INDIANAPOLIS -- Punches have been exchanged, video played
and, now, charges filed.

For the Indiana Pacers, it's been a long three weeks since a
brawl with Detroit fans scarred the image of what was once
considered one of the NBA's model franchises.

Five Pacers players and seven fans were charged Wednesday for
fighting in the stands and on the court on Nov. 19.

Pacers Ron Artest, Stephen Jackson, David Harrison and Anthony
Johnson all were charged with one count of misdemeanor assault and
battery, and could face up to three months in jail if convicted.
Three-time All-Star Jermaine O'Neal was charged with two counts of
assault and battery.

Pacers CEO Donnie Walsh has called the brawl one of the low
points in sports and in the franchise's history. Johnson said the
melee was "unfortunate, because it's definitely a team built
around turning the corner and challenging for a championship, and
at the same time being comprised of good guys."

"Definitely, the image of this team will take a hit after what
happened in Detroit -- that, combined maybe with the behavior of the
past two or three years," Johnson said in a veiled reference to
Artest's troubles in recent seasons.

The shocking images broadcast on a seemingly continuous loop
since the fight broke out have tarnished the team's image. Artest
was suspended for the rest of the regular season, Jackson for 30
games and O'Neal for 25 for their roles in the melee.

Center Jeff Foster still struggles to understand why a skirmish
between Artest and Pistons center Ben Wallace escalated into one of
the worst cases of player-fan violence in U.S. sports history.

"For whatever reason, that night -- the way the game was going,
what the score was, the rivalry between the two teams -- the crowd
and the team met at a point that unfortunately it happened and
hopefully never will again," Foster said.

"The whole thing has become such a circus. Something that no
team's ever dealt with before. Everybody's just trying to put it
behind themselves and just go on to playing basketball."

They've had little luck with that. The injury and
suspension-depleted Pacers have lost five games in a row, the
longest streak under second-year coach Rick Carlisle.

"Speaking for myself, sitting on the phone with lawyers for an
hour-and-a-half or two hours basically every other day, that kind
of gets frustrating and it can be a distraction," Johnson said.
"You've got to try to eliminate as much as possible, but it is
definitely there and it is definitely a focus each and every day."

The team is trying to move forward, leaning on loyal fans that
have supported the Pacers since the fight.

"Obviously anything of this sort isn't good for anybody's image
or the league as a whole," Foster said. "But I think the fans are
so behind us that they're going to understand that hopefully this
is just an isolated incident and any other team put in the same
situation probably would have reacted the same."

Added Johnson: "We kind of lost our heads a little bit
collectively as a unit. It's unfortunate because it's been played
over and over and over again and we're shown in a bad light. It
overtakes all the good things we do for the organization and the
community, as well. If we could turn back the hands of time I'm
pretty sure we would handle it differently."

Carlisle said he doesn't think the franchise's image has been

"I still see this franchise as one of the real shining pillars
in this league," he said. "In my mind, this situation, and how we
get through it, is going to prove that again."