With some of these NBA fans, cages might be the way to go

November 27, 2004|By Gregory Kane

JUST WHEN you were giving thanks for not having to hear the name "Ron Artest" anymore, here it comes one more time.

But first, a brief reprieve. When I was a sophomore at the high school properly called Baltimore City College, I often read The Collegian -- then one of the finest, if not the finest, high school newspapers in the country. Since many of City College's athletic teams routinely beat down our competition, I was drawn to the sports page.

"Knight Bonebenders Beat Edmondson" one headline might read. I understood immediately, without being told, who the bonebenders were. That referred to us guys on the wrestling team.

"City Cagers Beat ----." Just fill in the name of any team in the old Maryland Scholastic Association here. During my sophomore year of 1966-1967, City College's basketball squad beat everybody that took the floor against them. Or, more accurately, as acting police Commissioner Leonard Hamm -- the captain of that team -- put it, "We surgically dismantled teams and then moved on."

While I understood the precision destruction our hoops squad heaped on the MSA, I didn't quite get the term "cagers" as it applied to basketball players. What was up with that?

I got my answer years later, during a visit to the Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, Mass. At one exhibit, I learned that in the early days of basketball, back in the primitive America of the early 20th century, players hooped it up in cages for their own protection against objects -- bottles, bricks, rocks, a cup of beer -- being hurled at them by crazed fans.

In light of the Battle of Detroit that's still making the news, it looks like we might have abandoned the use of those cages too early.

In an act of shocking barbarism -- but not nearly so shocking and barbaric that newscasts couldn't stop airing the brawl ad nauseam -- a "fan" of the National Basketball Association champion Detroit Pistons hurled a cup of beer at Indiana Pacers forward Ron Artest, who responded by dashing into the stands and jacking a couple of jaws.

This led some fans to join the fracas. A couple of other Pacers players jacked a couple more jaws while backing up Artest. NBA Commissioner David Stern disciplined the players by handing out lengthy suspensions, including 73 games for Artest.

And the fans whose conduct was every bit as boorish and despicable as the players? Let's just say it's too bad there's no "Fan Commissioner" who can suspend them.

To be honest, my reaction then, as now, is that I couldn't blame Artest. Some jaws needed to be jacked. But that would be advocating violence, so pretend you didn't read that.

Just read this: Where were the Auburn Hills police or some visible security forces when the donnybrook was going on? Fan conduct, after improving considerably since the days when cages were necessary to protect basketball players (of course, it had nowhere to go but up) is becoming barbarically boorish and violent once more. Far from feeling sorry for some of those "fans" who didn't have any better sense than to tick off young, strong, physically gifted pro athletes who stand well over 6 feet and weigh well over 200 pounds, I say the daffy miscreants got what they asked for.

Oops. I guess I shouldn't have said that either. But let's not talk about those fans. Let's talk about sensible people like you and me for a minute.

I'm about 5 feet 10 inches tall and weigh about 180 pounds. Artest is close to 7 feet and weighs closer to 300 than 200 pounds. Now, there might be some guys my size who can take down a guy of Artest's height, weight, and physical gifts, but I have sense enough to know that I'm not one of them.

So, before I do something stupid like throw a cup of beer at a guy that size, I do the math -- 5 feet 10 inches with no athletic ability at all, versus nearly 7 feet and close to 300 pounds of raw physical talent. I conclude it's no contest. And so would you.

Now, what sympathy should we have for the idiot who threw the cup of beer at Artest? None. And what about those other idiots who stood around watching, especially the guy Artest went after, who wasn't the one who threw the cup?

Absolutely none. They're like those cretins behind the wheel who cause huge traffic backups not because there's an accident on their side of the road but because they've slowed down to gawk at an accident on the other side of the road.

If you've ever had the inclination to get out of your car and give one of those folks a pop in the eye, then you can have just a wee bit of sympathy for how Artest felt the night of the Battle in Detroit.

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