Saturday, November 20, 2004

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Could be worse -- could be Celtic/Rangers

Last night as I was flying back to Chicago I dipped into Franklin Foer's How Soccer Explains the World. The two chapters I read were about the tight linkage between Serbia's soccer hooligans and Arkan's war crimes, and the fierce Celtic-Rangers rivalry that defines Glasgow.

Reading the book helped put last night's melee between the Indiana Pacers, the Detroit Pistons, and the Piston fans at Auburn Hills in the proper perspective. Brendan Loy has the immediate reaction.

I'm not condoning the behavior of the fans here -- Mike Celizic is correct to assign a significant amount of blame on the moronic fan that threw something at Ron Artest in the first place. And, of course, Artest was Artest -- which means he subsequently lost it. If he hadn't, however, this would have ended with some minor suspensions and would not have led off Sportscenter. In other words, it took a precise sequence of actions for this to happen, and if Artest isn't the player in the middle, I'm not sure it escalates.

This was a case of emotions spilling out of control by all concerned -- starting with Artest and Ben Wallace. What it was not was a case of organized, premeditated violence with the intent of harming players or opposing fans. Go read Foer's book for examples of truly sociopathic sports fans.

What happened last night wasn't pretty -- but Marc Stein is probably right to say that the NBA will recover quickly from this episode:

The league has seen far darker days, be it the drug scandals of the 1970s that nearly put the NBA out of business, or the lockout of 1998-99 that cost Stern's kingdom its distinction as the only major professional sports league in the United States to avoid a work stoppage....

Believe it or not, like it or not, attracting more interest to future chapters of Pistons vs. Pacers is one of the ramifications. That's entertainment, folks. The pattern for many of us, after expressing our disgust and disappointment, is to keep following along, desperate to see what happens next.

However, Stein missteps when he says:

Much of the behavior was actually worse than soccer hooliganism, because soccer hooligans are often plain, old hooligans who pretend to be soccer fans just to have an outlet to cause trouble. Friday's culprits threw bottles, liquids, foods, a chair and God knows what else at Pacers players to escalate the chaos to an all-time high. Or low.

In my book -- and I believe most criminal codes -- premeditated acts are considered more heinous than acts of passion.

UPDATE: Kevin Hench has a good round-up over at Fox Sports. And Chris McCosky of the Detroit News points out the failure of the refs to take control of the situation -- not to mention their inexplicable failure to whistle Artest for a foul in the first place.

LAST UPDATE: Given that Artest was suspended for the rest of the season, this interview he gave last week to's Marc Stein seems unintentionally hilarious. The key bit: Can the Pacers really count on you for the rest of the season?

Artest: I'll be here for the rest of the season.

posted by Dan on 11.20.04 at 08:12 PM


Don't judge Stein to harshly, Dan. After all, he may be the worst NBA beat writer/columnist at a major media outlet; that's burden enough for anyone to carry. Don't require him to be right, too.

posted by: SomeCallMeTim on 11.20.04 at 08:12 PM [permalink]

Probably worth checking out the recent history of Celtic vs Rangers matches. Still a fierce rivalry and the sectarianism remains, but no longer do the games guarantee any violence. Indeed, Scottish soccer has significantly cleaned up its hooliganism problem over recent years and should be used as a positive rather than negative example.

posted by: Fraser Dinnis on 11.20.04 at 08:12 PM [permalink]

Fraser is right, although yesterday's Old Firm game was pretty ugly with a lot of nasty fouls and a sending off. My memory of how deep that rivalry goes is encapsulated by this incident: Claudio Reyna, the US international player used to play for Rangers, but moved to Sunderland in England in 2001 and subsequently to Manchester City. In 2002 shortly before the World Cup, the US was playing in a friendly against Ireland in Dublin Every time Reyna got a touch of the ball, the boos erupted like fireworks, simply because he used to play for Rangers.

I'm glad to see that you're reading that book, Dan. I finished it yesterday and really enjoyed it. My only criticism is that I wish he would have gone into some international rivalries like US-Mexico or Brazil-Argentina. The latter, at least among the supporters of Argentina, has sometimes devolved into a cesspool of racial epithets involving lower forms of primates.

posted by: Randy Paul on 11.20.04 at 08:12 PM [permalink]

Talking of soccer rivalries . . . England-Argentina, plus any game involving England or France (highly multiethnic teams) against a country with less englightened attitudes on race (e.g. Spain). As for England-Argentina, where to begin? Antonio Rattin's ejection in the 1966 World Cup quarter-final that was England's closest call on their way to winning it or the England manager calling the Argentines "animals" in the post-game press conferece? The Falklands War, followed by Diego Maradona's "hand of God" goal that knocked England out of the 1986 World Cup quarter-final that was Argentina's only close call on their way to winning it? David Beckham's ejection in England v. Argentina in the 1998 World Cup? Beckham putting Argentina out in 2002 with a penalty kick? The point is the whole England-Argentina rivalry, going back 40 years, revolves around bad behavior by the players and coaches to keep it stoked -- and by some sort of groundhog day thing that keeps pairing these two countries in big games.

The race thing is different. It's mostly "fans" with, in this case, a bit of inflammatory behavior by the Spanish coach as well.

posted by: Daniel on 11.20.04 at 08:12 PM [permalink]

Probably worth checking out the recent history of Celtic vs Rangers matches. Still a fierce rivalry and the sectarianism remains, but no longer do the games guarantee any violence.

In the stadium, sure. Different story on the streets.

posted by: Pearsall Helms on 11.20.04 at 08:12 PM [permalink]


No question that Artest is an idiot. But it's that point that makes me question if the Fan's reaction, while regretable, was that far out of line from what Artest himself was doing.

The foul I noted him as committing which drew the reaction both from the stands but the otehr team as well, leads me to think he'd already gone round the bend.

It should also be noted that while Basketball is hardly the only sport affected by this kind of nonsense, it is on the leading edge of it. The entire culture of the game has changed for the worse in the last 20 years.

Perhaps a parallel can be drawn for discussional purposes:

We recently saw a knife fight erupt at a rapper awards show... an event that shocked nobody at all. As I said in my own blog at the time:

Can anyone come up with big name Jazz acts having this kind of reputation? Bigtime Rock acts? When's the last time we heard of a knife fight at the Philharmonic? I don't recall anything like this at the Ryman Auditorium in Nashville in all the years that's been running, do you? I've been unable to find records of anything of the like happening down at the theatre district in Branson, MO. I haven't seen anything like this on the Gospel Music circuits, or the Modern Christian music circles, either. Ya know, at some point, someone's going to figure out that there's a rather well-established pattern, here. And no, this is not a 'racial profiling' thing. This is a 'rap profile' thing, and it's getting as predictable as the outcome of tossing a can of gasoline on a campfire.

How much of THAT culture has invaded the game of Basketball?

It's even money I'll get called a racist, here, but those making that charge miss the point... and I can easily prove that. Can such people, for example, a Robert Parrish pulling an Artest? Or a Danny Ange?

The example I use is not an idle one; I haven't followed the NBA since the middle 80's when Bird left the team.

I'm working on an extended write up about all of this, and I don't have all the fine points yet. (And thus, I've not posted very much discussion on this whole thing, yet) But I don't think it can be easily shluffed off, that the reason for Friday night was a long-term cultural shift both within the game, and without.

posted by: Bithead on 11.20.04 at 08:12 PM [permalink]

Passing thought: Not to put too fine an edge on it, what canb be said about a sport that engrandizes a Dennis Rodman?

posted by: Bithead on 11.20.04 at 08:12 PM [permalink]

bithead: the great oscar robertson anticipated your points a year or so back in a new york times opinion piece. paraphrasing as nearly as i can remember, he complained that today's nba 'has sold its soul to hip-hop culture, which is to real culture what nba basketball is to real basketball.' wonder how many of my colleagues in the media will make the point.

posted by: greeneyeshade on 11.20.04 at 08:12 PM [permalink]

Oh, yes... thank you for reminding me; I had forgotten that one. I wonder if it's still available online anywhere? It would have been interesting to toss that one at a talkshow host I heard on WLS over the weekend.

posted by: Bithead on 11.20.04 at 08:12 PM [permalink]

Bithead - I think Rodman gets a bad rap. He was nutty, a shameless self-promoter, an instigator, and a physical defender, but he wasn't dirty. And for all the trouble he got in, I don't ever recall him throwing the first punch while he was with the Bulls or the Spurs (I didn't see him much during the Pistons years).

For the record, I'm a lifelong Knicks fan, so I'm not a natural Rodman apologist. I just think his reputation as a bad seed far outweighs anything he ever did on or off the court (never arrested, as far as I know).

posted by: Independent George on 11.20.04 at 08:12 PM [permalink]

Well,I intended to make the Rodman comment in light of some of his contemporaries, which to my mind got ignored because of "Black Elton John/David Bowie" flash. I got hurried; I had a trouble ticket I was dealing with.

And your comments, even in light of that comparison are true, to a degree.. but we *are* talking about a matter of degree. Rodman's antics today, (Much like that of EJ and DB) seem fairly quaint, and God help us, almost NORMAL.

But in a strange way, perhaps that's the point, and are in fact a measure of how far from the game we've gone.

By the way, thanks to greeneyeshade, I have that long-form bit written and posted.

posted by: Bithead on 11.20.04 at 08:12 PM [permalink]

"In my book -- and I believe most criminal codes -- premeditated acts are considered more heinous than acts of passion. "

I think you are misunderstanding what he is calling "worse". He is not judging the acts, but the condition. Rotten people do rotten things. We accept that and try to prevent it. When hooligans engage in pointless violence, it is not a surprise. When ordinary fans become violent idiots, that is worse - not a worse crime, but a worse condition. There are many more ordinary fans, and no telling where the violent behavior will come from. It is much harder providing unobtrusive security when any fan might go nuts and become violent.

posted by: Njorl on 11.20.04 at 08:12 PM [permalink]

Soccer hooligans are just people driven crazy from boredom. Who can blame them?

I really wish the NBA Players Association hadn't appealed these suspensions. This way we'll be seeing the videotape and hearing the arguments about this for the next six months. Look, if you make millions playing a game you don't charge into a crowd on any provocation. Ever. If that isn't the Code of the Street, tough.

Yes, I do think not selling beer after halftime would end most of the provocations, and that would be a good thing. Players aren't responsible for fans getting drunk or team owners who make money off them. But players get paid for doing one thing: playing. They get paid a lot. If they want compensation beyond the money they can learn to turn the other cheek or they can go do something else.

posted by: Zathras on 11.20.04 at 08:12 PM [permalink]

I'll be interested to see what punishments are laid down.
In the 90's one of the best players at Man United (eric cantona) jumped into the stands and gave a half hearted kick at a fan who had abused him. He was banned for over 6 months and this almost certainly cost ManU the title.

In the washington post Michael Wilbon has suggested a 20 match ban. Given the number of games in an NBA season that seems far too short.

Also , in the UK, any fans who provoked this trouble would be identified be banned from all football stadiums for a period of years. will anything like this happen here?

posted by: Raj on 11.20.04 at 08:12 PM [permalink]

After committing the foul and being shoved, Artest laid down on the the scorer's table, where he was then hit with the cup and beverage. Can someone tell me what he was doing laying down on that table? He wasn't injured. The game wasn't over. It just strikes me as a distinctly strange thing to do.

posted by: what the? on 11.20.04 at 08:12 PM [permalink]

Soccer hooligans are just people driven crazy from boredom. Who can blame them?

Oh please. If that were the case, NFL games would look like Omaha Beach on D-Day.

posted by: Randy Paul on 11.20.04 at 08:12 PM [permalink]

I didn't see this mentioned it was published a few years back. Very entertaining story written by the Granta editor as he kicks it with soccer hooligans.

Bill Bufords Among the thugs

Among the thugs

posted by: skroah on 11.20.04 at 08:12 PM [permalink]

I didn't see this mentioned it was published a few years back. Very entertaining story written by the Granta editor as he kicks it with soccer hooligans.

Bill Bufords Among the thugs

Among the thugs

posted by: skroah on 11.20.04 at 08:12 PM [permalink]

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