Pistons resume play at home with increased security

Updated: November 22, 2004, 2:56 AM ET
Associated Press

AUBURN HILLS, Mich. -- Detroit guard Lindsey Hunter took pictures with fans while two armed police officers stood just a few feet away.

Things were clearly different at The Palace, and it might be a long time before everything returns to normal at the site of one of the worst brawls in U.S. sports history.

The defending NBA champion Pistons beat the Charlotte Bobcats 117-116 in double overtime Sunday night -- on Tayshaun Prince's dunk with 16.5 seconds left -- but few asked about the game just two days after the melee with Indiana that spilled into the stands and onto the court.

"I ain't answering anything about that suspension stuff, nothing about the fight," Detroit's Rasheed Wallace said before hearing a question.

Even though Wallace and the Pistons don't like it, the nation has its eyes on the security issues at their NBA home.

For Detroit's game against the Bobcats -- its first outing since the fracas -- the team doubled the number of armed police to about 20 in the arena and increased other arena security personnel by about 25 percent.

When both the Pistons and Bobcats went to the locker room and returned to the court, they were escorted by police -- one officer in front of each team, and one behind.

Unarmed personnel in blue and red shirts were sprinkled throughout the arena in suburban Detroit. Those assigned to stand near the court turned their back on the game to watch the fans in the stands.

Pistons CEO Tom Wilson said he hoped the franchise sent a message about how serious it was about preventing safety problems in the future.

"That's why we ratcheted up our security," Wilson said. "If you were sitting at home or you were here watching what happened the other night, you might have thought, `Can I take my wife there? Can I take my kids there? Is that a safe environment?"

It wasn't on Friday when an on-court scuffle between Indiana's Ron Artest and Ben Wallace of the Pistons led to Artest charging into the stands after a beverage-filled cup was thrown on him by a spectator.

"I think we want to show the security, and reinforce that this is the safest place to go to and that what you saw was a horrible aberration that probably would've only happened with that player in the league," Wilson said. "It was like the perfect storm."

The NBA came down hard on those involved in the mayhem Sunday night.

Artest was suspended for the rest of the season. Overall, nine players from the teams were banned for more than 140 games, including Ben Wallace, who will be out for six games.

The Pistons plan to add a protective covering over the tunnels leading to the locker rooms after the Pacers were showered with beer, popcorn and even a chair as they tried to get off the court.

But they don't want to line the court with police and security personnel or a physical barrier.

"I think you've got to be careful and not overact to undo an excellent relationship between fans and players by putting up walls," Wilson said.

Even before Friday's melee, fans were subject to random searches at Detroit's home games and all members of the media are searched by hand-held wands and their bags are checked and tagged.

Auburn Hills Deputy Chief Jim Mynsberge said investigators are reviewing film of the 5-minute fracas using the cameras of various media outlets and are interviewing witnesses and players. After the police investigation is complete, Mynsberge said the Oakland County Prosecutors Office will determine if charges will be filed and that could take weeks.

Nine people were treated for injuries, some of which might lead to lawsuits.

Wilson said there's a good chance that tickets would be revoked from any season-ticket holder who was involved in the fight.

Don White, 42, of Auburn Hills and his 10-year-old son sat in the section where Artest and teammate Stephen Jackson fought with fans two days earlier.

"I don't really see more security," White said. "I just see more media attention."

Print and broadcast outlets from all over the country covered Sunday night's game, and some planned on filing more reports Monday.

"With the playoff mob of media that we have here, you would think it's the Finals," Hunter said. "I'm already away from (Friday night). I'm not really thinking about it as much. I think everybody else is more than we are."


Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press

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