January 6, 2007

On November 19, 2004, I was at the Bevridge Place Pub in West Seattle for the unveiling in their new bar (it was much cooler than it sounds). It was loud and I couldn’t hear my phone ring. At some point I looked down and saw that I had 15 – 20 missed calls. I checked and they were all from my friends and family in Indiana. I fought back a bit of panic as I dialed my voice mail. Someone was dead. Or someone had won the lottery. The first call was from my sister.

“Turn on the TV. The Pacers were in a horrible brawl in Detroit”.

The rest of the messages were more of the same. The pub I was in had only had one small TV in the pool room and I quickly made my way through the crowd. The TV was tuned to ESPN. They were showing footage of the brawl but the sound was off and I couldn’t really tell what was going on.

TIVO! The game was being recorded back at my house. Time to go.

I went back to our table, sat down next to my girlfriend and and told her we had to go. It was loud so she didn’t really understand what I was saying but she’s a great girl so she just went along with it. I tried to explain the situation to everyone at the table but they weren’t much of a sports crowd and they couldn’t really hear me anyway. So we said our goodbyes and went home. A friend of ours was ready to go and caught a ride with us.

Back at my house, I turned in the television and fast forwarded through the game. Ron Artest, the Pacers’ starting forward, was in a scuffle with Ben Wallace of the Pistons. The scuffle looked like it was over when some hit Artest with a full cup of beer. He charged into the stands and a huge melee ensued between the team and the Piston’s fans. I watched the brawl a couple of times and then turned to ESPN to watch their coverage. At one point my girlfriend and our friend started laughing about something totally unrelated to the game and I barked at them;

“Hey, I’m watching this. It’s kind of a big deal. Can you be quiet?”

It was the first real moment of stress between the two of us.

Years later, she still reminds me of the night I snapped at the two of them because the were talking while I watched the replay of the fight for the 100th time.

Artest and several other Pacers were suspended for a significant number of days. The team barely made the playoffs and in many ways, still hasn’t recovered.

Two days ago I get my new issue of ESPN the Magazine

Ron Artest is on the cover.

Out of every sports story out there, they pick Ron Artest, hanging out underwater, looking all tough and shit. (I don’t know if you can see it it in the picture but I’m not kidding. He’s really underwater.)

The article doesn’t gloss over his shortcomings. Nor does it judge him too harshly for his mistakes.

Still, this is the man that left the Bulls under a dark cloud before shining in his first few season with the Pacers. Defensive Player of the Year. 24.6 points a game. Until that Pistons game.

As the ESPN article says, Artest was on the way to being the best player in the NBA. Twenty-five points a game, reigning defensive player of the year. What wasn’t mentioned is that the Pacers looked like they were on the way to being the best team in the NBA. When the fight started, the Pacers were in the final minutes of completely dominating the Pistons. The game was over and not even close.

The Pacers team on the floor that night had a good a chance as anyone to win the Championship that year. They were leading the division and finishing up a solid win over the reigning champs.

It was also Reggie Miller’s last season. The last chance for the Face of the Pacers to get his ring.

Then Ron Artest went and set the team back five years.

And now he’s on the cover of ESPN the magazine.

Underwater no less.

I guess I shouldn’t be surprised. This is the same magazine that used a photo of Terrell Owens on their NFL Kickoff Issue.




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