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In a ruling handed down by arbitrator Roger Kaplan, Jermaine O’Neal had his suspension cut from 25 to 15 games, a move which will fatten O’Neals wallet to the tune of approximately $1,800,000 based on an annual salary of 14,800,000.

 

Now, as Crocodile Dundee would say, “That’s a gift”.

 

The way I see it, the trouble with this whole incident, besides the incident itself, is the reaction, starting with that of the ESPN commentators on the night of the riot on down to the decision handed out by the arbitrator

 

On what can only be called the darkest evening in the history of the NBA, the three wise men, Tim Legler, Stephen A. Smith, and Greg Anthony, could be heard speaking about the problems associated with the fans. “‘What is the NBA going to do about the fans?”, Smith was heard to say. Stephen A. also touched upon racial slurs, while Anthony and Legler spoke about player frustrations associated with the comments that could be overheard from the stands. While the condemnation of the act was itself present, it was almost as if they were justifying what the players did. As you may know, the incident turned out to be the result of foolishness on the part of one unruly patron. Do you indict all fans due to the actions of one? One could call that stereotyping.

 

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Interestingly enough, by Sunday, during a halftime interview of the Texans-Packers game, Smith was in full condemnation mode and ultra supportive of the suspensions that David Stern had handed down, across the board, I might add. No mention of player justification or anything resembling it.

 

Anthony, in a he said, she said segment resembling that of the O’Reilly factor, was quick to defend Jackson and O’Neal in the spirit of protecting the brotherhood, or in this case, teammates. What most people failed to understand during that interview is that Anthony did not have a choice.

 

In March of the 1993 season with New York, it was Anthony, dressed in street clothes, that jumped off the bench and punched Kevin Johnson on the back of his head thus inciting one of the biggest brawls in NBA history during a game between the Knicks and the Suns, which was played in America West Arena.

 

A flip flop by Anthony would have reeked of pure hypocrisy. Smith’s softening could possibly be explained. My theory is that either ESPN or ABC, the parent, laid the wood, or Mrs. Smith politely explained the concept of staying politically correct in order to protect one’s source of income.

 

On Monday, there was a crowd of supporters outside the NBC studios, some sporting placards that said “Free Ron Artest.” Lovable Ron, wearing a T-Shirt emblazoned with his record label logo, was able to promote his rap career with a guest appearance on NBC’s Today Show. Though the intention was obviously not to have Artest exploit that opportunity for self gain, maybe the network should have thought better about the timing, and what purpose they were trying to serve versus what would be accomplished, especially when Artest showed up in that T-shirt. Fortunately, no one in that crowd was seen to have been wearing Bruno Magli shoes.

 

Billy Hunter, the NBA player rep, was quick to go into defense mode by comparing the incident to a fight involving players of Clemson’s and South Carolina’s football teams at the end of a contest played a few days prior in their hostile intrastate rivalry. Good job, Billy!

 

What many NBA players do not understand is that the bridge linking poverty to prosperity is made up of fan support, which is a very fragile existence. Talent generates revenue only if someone is willing to pay to see it, as many street performers will attest to. The NBA, from the prospective of popularity and acceptance, has been on the decline since the departure of Michael Jordan. The influx of foreign players is no accident. It is the result of fan backlash due to the perceived and very real attitudes of a large segment of the NBA player base. A foreign influx, given the lack of attitude, is a welcome addition. Fans would like to believe that their heroes are reminiscent of David Robinson, Avery Johnson, or John Stockton, but incidents like this only reinforce the lunacy behind those delusions.

 

Unfortunately, there exists a faction of NBA players that are actually supportive of the actions of Artest, Jackson, and O’ Neal. Nobody will come out and admit that, but you need look no further than some of the Indiana players that began sporting wristbands that was indicative of that support. The question is not if, but rather how many comfort calls that Artest, O’Neal, and Jackson fielded, and from whom. Hey, even Mike Doss, safety for the Indianapolis Colts, handed out Artest jerseys to his teammates in support of his fellow fallen athlete from Indiana. Now that is just what the NFL does not need.

 

What the public does not know is that the NBA has a dedicated task force to cover up the misgivings and iniquities of its athletes. All incidents run right through the NBA offices, and come out smelling like roses, though the preference is have it disappear faster and cleaner than Jimmy Hoffa.

 

Speaking of the NBA, they are a large part of the problem. The NBA is the only sport in which, as a courtside attendee, a visit to the rest room may require you to walk directly behind the player bench, so close that one may survey those players is in need of a manicure. Worse, the player has his back to the fan. The decision to surrender a few seats, thus a few dollars in revenue, in the interests of greater security and/or creating a barrier, lies within the respective organizations and the all-mighty grand pubbah himself, David Stern.

 

Maybe every NBA contract should come with a layer of thick skin, because that is what it takes to coexist given the limited number of unruly fans that will seep into the arena on a nightly basis. The alternative may be to refrain from selling alcohol, or muzzling the attendees ala Hannibal Lechter. Presented with the trade off of making millions, having women at ones disposal, and living in a mansion with a bathroom for every day of the week, virtually everyone that I know would be willing to absorb a few verbal jabs on a nightly basis. For most, that would be a welcome privilege. Maybe it’s the company I keep, but I don’t think so.

The public’s perception of Jayson Williams still hasn’t changed.   
The public’s perception of Jayson Williams still hasn’t changed. (AP Images)  

 

Getting hit with a beer does cross a line, but hardly merits retaliation in the most uncivilized manner possible. That is why we have police, courts and jail.

 

Right before Thanksgiving, Jayson Williams, former New Jersey Nets All Star that was recently acquitted of the most serious murder charge for the shooting of a limo driver, was photographed handing out holiday turkeys. Maybe O’ Neal should take a cue.

 

Image is everything. Perhaps, in the interests of protecting endorsements, rebuilding public relations, and making amends with the fan base, O’Neal should think about giving out a few of those turkeys. We live in a very forgiving society. If he really wants to shock the world, he can start with an acceptance of responsibility and an apology. Wouldn’t that be a change?    

  
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