Artest defends brawl actions during community service

DETROIT -- Ron Artest, talking to children as part of his community service sentence, defended his actions in one of the worst brawls in U.S. sports history.

"Someone started trouble and I ended it," Artest told about 50 children Wednesday at a panel on black empowerment at the Judge Mathis Community Center. "I would always encourage you to protect yourself but in certain situations, if you can avoid them, avoid them."

Artest was at the center of the November 2004 brawl at a Detroit Pistons game. It started when Artest, then with the Indiana Pacers, fouled Pistons center Ben Wallace late in a blowout game.

As the confrontation on the court appeared to calm down, a fan hit Artest, who was lying on the scorer's table, with a cup. Artest charged into the stands and threw punches, along with teammate Stephen Jackson.

Pistons fan John Green was convicted of punching Artest but was found not guilty of throwing a drink on the player.

"I like John Green, he's real," Artest said. "I don't have any problems with John Green. He did something really stupid but a lot of people do stupid things. God forgives, so I'm forgiving too."

But Artest, who now plays for the Sacramento Kings, said he really doesn't think about that night in The Palace of Auburn Hills.

"It's so over. That night has been so far over, I really don't have any thoughts on it," he said.

Oakland County Prosecutor David Gorcyca, whose office investigated the brawl, said Artest set a bad example for the children that night.

"Sometimes you have to be a bigger man," Gorcyca said. "If somebody spits in your face or throws some water or beer on you, it doesn't give you the license to attack the person with more degree of force than necessary."

Gorcyca said whether he cares to realize it or not, Artest is a public figure that children look up to, which comes with being a mentor or role model.

"Children idolize professional athletes," Gorcyca said. "They want to imitate their clothing, their behavior, their jewelry. So they have to hold themselves up to a higher threshold."

Artest, Jackson and several teammates were sentenced to one year of probation after pleading no contest to misdemeanor assault charges. All were ordered to perform community service, which Artest is scheduled to do in the Detroit area through Sunday.

Artest spoke about his upbringing in a broken home and how past drug dealing almost landed him in jail. He said he started getting into trouble after his parents divorced when he was 13.

"I was very sad and I always wished they got back together, but they're not," Artest said. "If that happens to anybody, you have to worry about yourself. You can't worry about your parents at that time, because obviously they aren't thinking about you, they're thinking about themselves."