Pistons-Pacers at The Palace

Originally Published: March 19, 2005
By Marc Stein | ESPN.com

AUBURN HILLS, Mich. -- Stephen Jackson thinks he has a fair idea of what awaits him Friday night in Southeast Michigan. And guess what?

He can't wait for whatever comes.

"Anybody who knows me would tell you how I excited I am about this game," Jackson told ESPN.com.

Stephen Jackson
AP/Duane BurlesonStephen Jackson (with yellow armband) was involved in the Nov. 19 scuffle that resulted in a 30-game suspension.
The Pacers' swingman is returning to The Palace of Auburn Hills for the first time since Indiana and Detroit engaged Nov. 19 in what is regarded as the ugliest melee in NBA history. Five players and eight fans face criminal charges for their involvement in a brawl that spilled into the stands and drew a slew of suspension from horrified commissioner David Stern, including a season-long ban for Pacers defensive ace Ron Artest.

With Jermaine O'Neal sidelined for the rest of the regular season by a shoulder injury, after serving a 25-game suspension that an arbitrator reduced to 15 games, Jackson is the lone heavily punished Pacer who'll be on the floor -- although O'Neal is traveling with the team and expected to sit on the Indiana bench.

Not that Jackson or his employers are worried about a threatening fan reaction. The Pacers have requested no extra security measures, and Jackson made it clear he has no fears about the scene.

"I expect boos, fans saying all kinds of stuff, fans saying, 'Come punch me,' " Jackson said. "I won't use that as a negative. I won't react. I know what people are expecting to see. If people think it's going to happen again ... it ain't gonna be me.

"I'm not worried about anything," he continued, reflecting on a rough upbringing in Port Arthur, Texas, during which his father was imprisoned when Jackson was 13 and his older brother Don died a year later. "I spent the first 21 years of my life wondering if a bullet was gonna take me out or whatever. I'm not worried about going to work to play basketball.

"I'm blessed to be here, and I am still here. I've been through a lot of things. But I've also done a lot of positive things, and it's just amazing how one incident can make people say so many bad things about you. I've never been in any trouble in this league except for the unfortunate incident in Detroit. I helped a team win a championship [in San Antonio]. But one thing my momma always told me was, 'Don't worry about what I can't control.' And I can't control what the fans are going to do."

Pistons spokesman Matt Dobek said Thursday that security will be beefed up to playoff levels, especially near both teams' benches. The Pacers will be traveling with their own club security personnel, and 20-plus Auburn Hills police officers will join an increased force of unarmed Palace security personnel.

Dobek insists, though, that "the general observer probably won't notice any difference," and Pacers CEO Donnie Walsh expressed confidence in the Pistons' ability to protect his players.

"I'm not counting on the league at all," Walsh said when asked if Indiana sought assurances from Stern's office that protection would be increased. "I'm counting on the Detroit Pistons to provide it, and I think they have [since the brawl]."

"There's no grave concern," said NBA vice president of basketball operations Stu Jackson. "Detroit has had countless home games since the incident and there have not been any major issues that I know of since that time. The goal here is for this to just be another NBA game."

Dobek added: "We've gone [to Indiana] twice since November and there's been nothing close to an incident."

During the All-Star break, Stern announced new security guidelines for arenas leaguewide. Foremost among the measures is a rule banning the sale of alcohol after the third quarter, with fans limited to two alcoholic drinks per purchase during the first three quarters -- none bigger than 24 ounces. Designated-driver programs are also now required at all arenas.

For this game, Dobek said, Pistons management did discuss the possibility of using a canopy to cover the tunnel through which the Pacers will enter the court. The Pistons decided against taking that measure, however, preferring to give a soon-to-retire Reggie Miller the freedom to sign autographs if he wishes in what could be his final game at The Palace.

"That kind of interaction is what makes the NBA game special," Dobek said.

"When we won the championship last year, there were no [major] incidents. A few fans [on Nov. 19] have ruined it for the masses. Generally speaking, if you talk to people around the league, I think our fans are pretty mild.

"We're aware it's the Pacers and it's their first time back, and we have adjusted some things, security near the benches and so forth. But so have most teams around the league."

None of that, again, is Jackson's concern. All he wants is a playoff spot, which Indiana presently holds in spite of its season of tumult. Don't forget that, besides O'Neal and Artest, starting point guard Jamaal Tinsley is also out injured.

Yet the Pacers are still seventh in the East at 34-33, on course for a first-round showdown with -- guess who? -- Detroit.

That's not the opponent anyone would want to see in the opening round, and certainly not what Indiana would have expected when the season started. But Jackson -- averaging 18.2 ppg in his debut season with the Pacers -- says they'd be grateful just to get in. Especially since O'Neal is expected to be activated for the playoffs if Indiana can qualify.

"If something happens with this team, we ain't surprised any more," Jackson said. "Whenever something happens, we come to terms with it. Considering everything we've been through, to still have a chance to make the playoffs, this team is happy right now."

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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