5 PACERS, 5 FANS TO FACE ASSAULT CHARGES

Nobody famous is going to jail. No NBA player is rotting in a cell. No former All-Star is gonna chop rocks with a pickax and answer the question, “What are you in for?” by saying “Beer hit me, and I ran into the stands.”

The Oakland County prosecutor will charge players and fans today for their parts in the Brawl at the Palace a few weeks ago, and those charges will be various forms of assault and battery, mostly misdemeanors, with one felony charge for the fan who threw the chair.

And that’s that. Papers will be filed. Phone calls will be made. Things will be handled with what prosecutor David Gorcyca called “professional courtesy.”

“I suspect the way this is gonna play out,” he told me last week, “is once the defense attorneys or whomever represents these players have an opportunity to review the videos, they’ll probably come into court, plead no contest, get placed on probation, and pay the assorted court costs. It’s pretty standard if they have no previous records.”

Suit and tie. Yes, sir, no sir. Sound low key? It’s called the law. And the law, thankfully, doesn’t get as hysterical as a basketball game.

It also has little effect on it.

Another Sprewell spree

Remember Latrell Sprewell? A few years back, he was more the talk of basketball than Ron Artest is today. Sprewell back then was charged with something, too. Choking his coach. He was suspended, like Artest, for a long time — 82 games, the equivalent of a full season.

And you know where Sprewell is today? Playing NBA basketball. And you know what he did over the weekend? Yelled a sexual obscenity at a female fan who heckled him. And you know what happened? The NBA suspended him for a game, costing him $162,000 in salary.

And what has he learned? Nothing.

If a guy who already missed a year of his career for bad behavior doesn’t bite his tongue when it could cost him $162,000, you know the game is what it is, the fans are what they are, and bad judgment will be a part of it all for as long as there are hoops and seats.

What I said when this happened is what I say today. At the core of this whole ugly Palace incident is the bastardized version of “respect” that players and fans alike have come to adopt. Nobody can say anything to anybody. Everything is about “manhood.” Any form of negativity is “disrespect.”

And like some perverted version of the Wild West cowboy, players and fans feel entitled if not obligated to defend their “honor” — even with their fists.

League takes harder line

NBA commissioner David Stern hopes the year-long suspension of Artest will send a message of intolerance to the players. And maybe that much money lost, and a year’s worth of playoff chances, will make a dent in the minds of some players.

But not the legal part. Come on. Nothing is going to change as a result of these misdemeanor charges. Athletes are charged with misdemeanors all the time. Driving under the influence. Carrying a concealed weapon. Possession of marijuana. Can you even count how many times you read those words on the sports page?

So now these charges. Assault and battery. One count each for Indiana players Artest, Stephen Jackson, David Harrison, Anthony Johnson and two counts for Jermaine O’Neal.

For the fans? David Wallace, Ben’s brother, gets one assault and battery charge. John Green, the man who hurled the cup, gets two. Bryant Jackson, who allegedly threw the chair into the crowd, gets one assault and battery charge and a felony assault charge — and he’s damned lucky that chair didn’t seriously hurt someone. A couple of unidentified fans get slapped on the wrist.

But that’s it, folks. This will not be some mass march to the slammer. The law simply doesn’t see it that way. Nobody was seriously injured, no one was killed, no one pulled a gun or a knife. Sure, the fight was, for a while, on every TV channel everywhere you turned, but prosecutors can’t issue their charges by media exposure.

“I’m not gonna treat the players any differently than the fans,” Gorcyca told me last week. “In the law’s eyes, jersey or no jersey, I’m going to make the appropriate decision and let the courts address the sentencing decisions. Just because you’re a millionaire is not going to impact on my charging decision. Nor will it buy you any leniency.”

No. What it buys you are lawyers. What it buys you is professional treatment. What it buys you is the ability to handle your business in a three-piece suit, look contrite, accept the charge, and drive away, presumably in a pretty expensive vehicle.

Sound wrong? It isn’t. What was wrong was thinking that the legal part of this was ever going to match the hysteria part. The only thing that will match the public outcry over this event would be an internal cry for players and fans to respect one another in the way the word “respect” was intended.

Don’t hold your breath.

Contact MITCH ALBOM at 313-223-4581 or albom@freepress.com”

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