Artest, Jackson charge Palace stands

AUBURN HILLS, Mich. -- Players and fans exchanged punches in the stands near the end of a Pacers-Pistons game Friday night in one of the worst brawls in NBA history. The mayhem left several people injured and prompted a police investigation.

Indiana's Ron Artest and Stephen Jackson charged into the stands and fought with fans in the final minute of their game against Detroit, and the brawl forced an early and ugly end to the Pacers' 97-82 win.

"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."

ESPN's Jim Gray reported late Saturday that Detroit's Ben Wallace, whose shove of Artest sparked the melee, felt bad about the circumstances Artest now finds himself in and had contacted Artest through an intermediary to apologize.

Officials stopped the game with 45.9 seconds remaining after pushing and shoving between the teams spilled into the stands and fans began throwing things at the players near the scorer's table.

About three hours after the startling finish, Auburn Hills police walked out of a television trailer with videotapes gathered from 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 Prosecutor's 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."

Oakland County prosecutor David Gorcycka told ESPN Radio on Saturday that charges could be slow in coming.

"You can literally count everytime a punch is thrown and that would constitute an assualt and battery," he told ESPN Radio. "Now, whether or not some of them are justifiable under law remains to be seen. Some players could state they were coming to the defense of, say, Artest when he entered the stands area, but this is all going to have to be straightened out and there are going to be voluminous reports from people on press row, who were there just rows in front it, player personnel, the players themselves, coaches, referees, fans, literally hundreds of reports to review."

G. William Hunter, the executive director of the NBA Players Association, apologized to fans for the events of Friday night.

"The players association deeply regrets the events that took place in Detroit on Friday night," Hunter said in a statement. "On behalf of all of our members we want to offer our sincerest apology to NBA fans everywhere. We are in the process of consulting with our players, league officials and others in an effort to determine all of the facts. No one can condone the level of incitement and violence we all witnessed. Clearly, there's a need to institute measures and safeguards to improve the safety of players and fans alike to ensure that an incident like this never occurs again."

One of the half-dozen people treated for injuries at The Palace was taken to a hospital by ambulance and another sought treatment, police said.

"At this time, we don't have any indication of major injuries, Mynsberge said.

Detroit's Larry Brown, who started coaching in 1972 after his playing career ended, said it was the ugliest thing he had seen as a coach or player. He was in the middle of the confrontation, trying to break it up.

Joe Dumars, the Pistons' president of basketball operations, added: "There's no place in the game for what went on with this incident. It was just an ugly scene."

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.

The Palace announcer said the game was being stopped and pleaded with fans not to throw things.

The melee started when Wallace went in for a layup and was fouled hard by Artest from behind. 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 full cup thrown from the stands. He jumped up and charged into the stands, throwing punches as he climbed over seats.

"He was on top of me, pummeling me," fan Mike Ryan of Clarkston said. "He asked me, 'Did you do it?' I said, 'No, man. No!'"

After Artest charged into the stands, Jackson joined him in the melee and threw punches at fans, who punched back at them.

Security personnel and ushers tried to break it up. Former Pistons player Rick Mahorn, who was seated courtside as a Detroit radio analyst, tried to stop the brawl in the stands. Detroit's
Rasheed Wallace and Indiana's David Harrison were also in or near the stands 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. Teammate Jermaine O'Neal stepped in and punched another man who joined the scrum.

"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 TV.

"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?"

The Lakers' Lamar Odom 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 and has been suspended frequently, 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 TV 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.

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 but couldn't get closer.

Indiana's next game is Saturday night at home against Orlando, and Detroit hosts Charlotte on Sunday.

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.