WNBA hands down suspensions for Shock-Sparks skirmish

The WNBA punished so many players for their roles in this week's skirmish that the league is staggering the suspensions by alphabetical order.

"None of us can recall an incident like this," WNBA president Donna Orender said Thursday during a conference call.

The league suspended Detroit assistant coach Rick Mahorn and 10 players following the dustup between the Shock and the visiting Los Angeles Sparks on Tuesday.

Shock forward Plenette Pierson was suspended for four games, the harshest penalty, for initiating and escalating the altercation.

"In our opinion, Plenette was the aggressor," said Renee Brown, the WNBA's chief of basketball operations and player relations

Mahorn was suspended for two games, as were Shannon Bobbitt and Murriel Page of the Sparks, for the incident at The Palace of Auburn Hills.

"As a team, we're incensed that Rick Mahorn was suspended," Detroit coach Bill Laimbeer said in a telephone interview with The Associated Press from Houston, where the Shock were scheduled to play the Comets. "He was trying to be a peacemaker and now he's being thrown under the bus."

Brown said Mahorn only started off as a peacemaker before he shoved Sparks star Lisa Leslie.

"Then he took it a step too far," she said. "When he pushed Lisa, it escalated the situation."

Players suspended for one game included Detroit's Kara Braxton, Tasha Humphrey, Elaine Powell and Sheri Sam, along with Los Angeles' Leslie, Candace Parker and DeLisha Milton-Jones.

"I feel sorry for Bobbitt and for Murriel getting two games for coming off the bench, but that is what the league felt necessary," Parker said.

Four of the suspended Shock players and Mahorn began serving their suspensions on Thursday night, where Detroit played Houston. Sam was on the active roster, but the Shock were left with eight players for the game, including 50-year-old Nancy Lieberman, who signed a seven-day contract on Thursday.

Lieberman, the Shock's former coach and general manager, was going to play on Thursday only and Laimbeer said the Shock would sign another player to replace Ford on Friday.

Lieberman said her signing was more than just a publicity stunt aimed at directing attention away from Tuesday's fight.

"The other night was really sad and I watched it and was very disappointed," Lieberman said. "But today is a day to celebrate the history of the game, to celebrate this league and to inspire people."

Pierson was also fined $1,500 and Mahorn was docked $1,000. The rest of the players involved were fined $500 each.

"I think the fines that were handed out were just," Los Angeles Sparks coach Michael Cooper said. "I don't think there is anyone in this league that condones fighting. All players know what happens when you leave the floor and throw a punch. Unfortunately we're missing four of our five starters. That's something that we'll have to deal with but that's why they call it a team sport."

Laimbeer would not comment further on the suspensions of his players, but backed up Mahorn again before Thursday's game.

"It's unfortunate that players get suspended. These things happen," he said. "That's the way business works some days. I don't comment on suspensions because it's beyond my control. Except for Rick Mahorn. He was out there being a peacemaker, something happened and he was not involved and that's bad."

Pam Wheeler, director of operations for the WNBA players' union, said officials are in the process of interviewing players affected by the fines and suspensions while reviewing video of the end of the game.

"A determination of any appeals or grievances will be made shortly," Wheeler said in a statement.

The melee at The Palace in suburban Detroit -- where the infamous brawl between the Pistons, Indiana Pacers and fans was in 2004 -- broke out with 4.6 seconds left in a game won by the Sparks.

Parker and Pierson got tangled and fell to the court. Deanna Nolan tackled Parker, and Mahorn appeared to push Leslie to the court. Milton-Jones responded by punching Mahorn in the back.

The fracas started moments after Parker and Detroit's Cheryl Ford had to be separated after Ford fouled Parker. After Ford tried to restrain Pierson, her right knee buckled. An MRI on Wednesday revealed an ACL tear. The injury was incurred on a rebound with 2:04 remaining. Ford will miss the rest of the season and playoffs due to a torn knee ligament.

Rare buzz was generated for the WNBA by the skirmish, but the source of the spotlight doesn't thrill the league.

"There's no doubt that there has been a tremendous amount of attention, but it's not the type of attention that we seek," Orender said.