Contrary to what union chief Billy Hunter might think, there’s little for the NBA players association to consider about Ron Artest and Stephen Jackson’s latest suspensions.
These are, after all, two of the NBA’s biggest problem children, the main culprits in that ugly brawl at The Palace. Lengthy suspensions then weren’t enough to convince them to clean up their acts, because both found trouble yet again.
It’s the union’s job to back its players, but there comes a time when sticking up for someone is the same as enabling him.
Artest and Jackson were suspended without pay Saturday for the first seven games of next season as the result of their latest legal troubles. Artest pleaded no contest in May to a misdemeanor domestic violence charge stemming from a fight with his wife two months earlier. Jackson pleaded guilty last month to felony criminal recklessness for firing a gun outside a strip club last fall.
On Sunday, Hunter called the suspensions “excessive,” and said the union would meet with Artest and Jackson “to consider all of our options for appeal.”
It’s true, the punishments are tougher than other players have faced for off-the-court misbehavior. When Ruben Patterson was convicted of third-degree attempted rape in 2001, he got five games. Eddie Griffin got three games three years ago for misdemeanor assault.
But Artest and Jackson are different, discipline problems even before the brawl, and the NBA rightly treated them so. So should Hunter and the union.
“Each,” league spokesman Tim Frank said, “are repeat violators of NBA rules.”
By bailing Artest and Jackson out again, even if it’s just getting their suspensions reduced by a game or two, the union gives them tacit approval to act up in the future. Tell them they got what was coming to them, and maybe, just maybe, they’ll finally understand they can’t keep acting like knuckleheads.
There’s nothing wrong with giving a player a second chance. But Artest and Jackson have used up theirs — and then some.
It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to know strip clubs and early morning hours aren’t a good mix. Yet there Jackson was, out late last October during training camp with some of his then-teammates with the Indiana Pacers.
Sure enough, a fight broke out. Despite still being on probation from the 2004 brawl with the Pistons, not to mention all the people around, Jackson decided it would be a good idea to fire a 9mm handgun into the air.
Artest has been fined, he’s been suspended. He was even made to undergo extensive counseling during his lengthy time off after the brawl, where he charged into the stands and set off the ugliest scene in U.S. sports history.
Yet there he was March 5, being arrested after his wife said he pushed her and slapped her during an argument. All while their 3-year-old daughter was in the house.
“I definitely want to apologize for my behavior even to the ... whole NBA, all the players, because the league is doing so well right now,” Artest said a few days later. “... Ron Artest once again is in the media for something other than basketball and I apologize.”
Thing is, we’ve heard that before. Too many times.
If Artest and Jackson want to keep ruining their lives and reputations, it’s their business. What they can’t seem to grasp is that every scrape they get into and every negative headline they make reflects poorly on the rest of their team and their league, too.
Think NBA commissioner David Stern likes delving into players’ private lives? Hardly. But he realized long ago that thuggish behavior on or off the court turns off the fans — the people ultimately responsible for funding the cushy life to which the players and league have become accustomed.
By punishing Artest and Jackson more severely than other players, the NBA is saying enough is enough. If someone does something to hurt the league’s image, there are going to be consequences. And seven games, at the beginning of the season, for two players who have a history of making trouble for themselves and everyone around them, sounds about right.
The union does have a responsibility to make sure Artest and Jackson are treated fairly. But there are 400-some other players who are members, too. They’re the ones Hunter and the union should be considering.
Nancy Armour is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to her at firstname.lastname@example.org.