League memo warns of fighting consequences

The NBA requires teams to read a memo warning of suspensions and fines for entering the stands to confront fans.

Updated: November 20, 2004, 8:39 PM ET
By Marc Stein | ESPN.com

To guard against incidents like Friday's melee in Detroit, the NBA requires teams to convene their players as a group and read aloud a lengthy violence memo warning of suspensions and fines for entering the stands to confront fans, league sources told ESPN.com.

There is no language in the standard NBA player contract addressing player-fan altercations, sources said. But the memo, which teams were required to review with their players by Nov. 1, addresses the consequences of on-court fights and the potential penalties attached to entering the stands. The league's 30 teams, sources said, were required to give the NBA office written notification that the memo was discussed in a team meeting before opening night on Nov. 2.

The memo touches on various topics, among them warning players against leaving the bench area during an on-court fight -- which can result in an automatic one-game suspension and a $35,000 fine for any player who does so -- and how flagrant fouls will be administered by the league, including the notification and appeals process.

The memo also defines what the NBA considers entering the stands. Even courtside seats are considered "stands," but the league does acknowledge that unintentional player-fan contact when a player dives after a loose ball is understandable and accepted.

A strict interpretation of the rules suggests that virtually every player on the Pistons and Pacers is at risk for at least a one-game suspension because of leaving-the-bench regulations. But it's unlikely NBA commissioner David Stern would apply the rule so literally, given the precedent set in October 2002 when the Kings and Lakers brawled in an exhibition game.

Several Sacramento players left the bench area and raced down a tunnel leading to the locker rooms, and then-Lakers center Shaquille O'Neal was also at the heart of a second scuffle that followed the initial skirmish involving Sacramento's Doug Christie and the now-retired Rick Fox. Stern, though, did not suspend anyone but Christie (two games) and Fox (six games). NBA vice president Stu Jackson said at the time that "our judgment was that the players who left the bench were attempting to break up the fight and did not escalate the altercation.''

Marc Stein is the senior NBA writer for ESPN.com. To e-mail him, click here. Also, click here to send a question for possible use on ESPNEWS.

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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