Suspensions? NBA says announcement likely Monday

Originally Published: October 27, 2002
By Marc Stein | ESPN.com

Suspensions for the punch-throwers are inevitable. Sacramento's Doug Christie and L.A.'s Rick Fox will miss at least the first two games of the regular season, and probably more given the severity of Friday night's fisticuffs.

From The NBA's Rulebook
Rule No. 12 -- Fouls and Penalties
Section VII -- Fines

c. During an altercation, all players not participating in the game must remain in the immediate vicinity of the bench. Violators will be suspended, without pay, for a minimum of one game and fined up to $35,000.

The suspensions will commence prior to the start of their next game. A team must have a minimum of eight players dressed and ready to play in every game. If five of more players leave the bench, the players will serve their suspensions alphabeitcally, according to the first letters of their last names.

Fox, actually, is a virtual lock to get three or more games. He and Christie tangled in two separate incidents, each wilder than the swings that earned Denver's Juwan Howard a two-game ban and $15,000 fine for a scuffle against Indiana.

Fox figures to take the hardest hit because he waited to meet Christie in the tunnel leading to the locker rooms after both had been ejected from the game. That certainly negates the spontaneity defense.

No penalties were announced Saturday and an NBA spokesman told ESPN.com on Sunday the league will take the entire weekend to evaluate film and complete interviews of the combatants. Commissioner David Stern is undoubtely weighing a serious message to both teams, with a long season ahead that hasn't even started for real yet, that fighting won't be tolerated -- no matter how much the NBA needs a bitter, must-see rivalry.

The question is, how many other Lakers and Kings will be suspended?

Stu Jackson, the commissioner's top cop, began some serious film-watching Saturday, with lots more to study besides Christie's upper cut (the cleanest punch) and Fox's retaliatory ambush. A strict interpretation of NBA rules would force Jackson to suspend every Kings player who left the bench once Fox and Christie began their second scrap in the tunnel leading to the visitors' locker room at Staples Center.

The same rules would also apply to the Lakers' Shaquille O'Neal, even with Shaq sporting what would have to be described as street clothes, since O'Neal left the bench to join the fray in the tunnel. Unless Shaq can convince the league's interrogation wing that he was chasing after Fox to stop him, bet on The Big Everything sitting out at least a game once the Lakers activate him.

But ...

There's still a gray area here, and it's Jackson's job to cut through the haze. The rules were written with on-court altercations in mind. Jackson, along with Stern and his cabinet, must determine whether the rules apply the same way to an altercation away from the floor and after both of the fighters were kicked out.

The Kings will counter with the argument that they couldn't have been sure exactly what was happening in the tunnel except that Christie was under attack -- and that they rushed to his aid like the Kansas City Royals did for Tom Gamboa this summer when the first-base coach was attacked by two shirtless fans. Depending on how Jackson rules, Sacramento could be even more shorthanded to start the season than it already is with Mike Bibby sidelined.

And you thought exhibitions didn't count.

Marc Stein is the NBA senior writer for ESPN.com. E-mail him at marc.stein@espn3.com.

Marc Stein | email

Senior Writer, ESPN.com
• Senior NBA writer for ESPN.com
• Began covering the NBA in 1993-94
• Also covered soccer, tennis and the Olympics

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