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|| SportsShooter.com: News Item: Posted 2005-01-03

Basket Brawl? A First-hand report on the Pacers versus fans conflict
By Duane Burleson

Photo by Duane Burleson / AP

Photo by Duane Burleson / AP

Indiana Pacers forward Ron Artest gets into the stands to fight with some fans during a a brawl with the Detroit Pistons with just 45.9 seconds left in the game Friday, Nov. 19, 2004, in Auburn Hills, Mich. The game was called by the officials.
Editor's Note: It has been called the worst violence at a sports event in history. The brawl between members of the visiting Indiana Pacers and fans of the Detroit Pistons on Nov. 19 netted 9 players 140 games in suspensions. The fallout is still being felt in sports with increased security and scrutiny of athletes and fans alike. What was it like to begin an evening covering a regular season NBA game and end up witnessing a news event that ran on the front pages of most newspapers for days? The Sports Shooter Newsletter hopes to get several views on this historic and sad day in sports history from as many photographers present as possible. But only Duane Burleson, who covered the game for the Associated Press, responded. When asked after the incident if he thought at the time he was covering something that would change sports he replied "No, I didn't really." Below is his interesting and insightful report on the events on and off the court that night in Detroit.

It was a very interesting night of basketball. A regular season game that had already been decided. A foul sets it off. Ben Wallace drove to the basket for a layup and Ron Artest committed the foul. I remember an extra shove from Artest after the whistle that set off Wallace but the replays are inconclusive.

A shove in the face by Wallace and then a little fracas and I thought it would be over with, as most of these altercations are. I couldn't see Artest after that with all the players and coaches between me and him. I got up from my position under the basket and walked out on the court to try following the scrum.

Things had started to calm a bit when suddenly I saw a Pacer leap off the scorer's table into the seats, I realize it's Artest. I ran to mid-court and was standing next to the scorer's table trying to shoot into the stands through the scoring crew and writers, who had been seated there. I couldn't believe this was happening. Fists were flailing, fans were falling, and people were getting in my way. Just as quickly as he went into the stands Artest was headed right for me and jumped back over the scorers table onto the court. I stepped aside.

I missed the fan getting punched in front of the visitor's bench, I was still trying to shoot into the stands where Stephen Jackson continued to fight. All the while I'm taking quick glances around to see what else was going on and to make sure I wouldn't get caught up in the fight. I then noticed fans throwing things down from the stands into the visitor's walkout as some players, including Jermaine O'Neal, were escorted to the locker room.

I never really felt threatened or in danger, I was trying to concentrate on shooting what was going on. I tried to take quick glances around to stay out of the way, so to speak. There were only a few fans that got on the court. I've been at college games when the fans stormed the field or court and felt more alarmed.

As far as the other photographers, I wasn't paying much attention to what they were doing. The pictures I saw from them showed we all went in different directions and angles to shoot it.


(Duane Burleson has been shooting for the AP since "1983 or '84" and covers most of the Pistons home games, including the championship years in 1989 and 1990. You can check out his work at: http://www.sportsshooter.com/members.html?id=2577 and at: http://www.duaneburleson.com/)

Related Links:
Duane Burleson's member page

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