Stern's choice of tie says it all Sunday
NEW YORK -- His last name usually doesn't describe his public demeanor, but Commissioner David Stern was exactly that on Sunday night, while formally announcing the punishment for players involved in Friday night's fracas in Detroit.
His staunch manner and his tone of voice matched the message he was hoping to send.
Players who played a part in the melee would be suspended for a total of 143 games. More than half of that penalty was for one man alone -- Indiana Pacers forward Ron Artest -- whose rest-of-the-season suspension, if it is upheld, would be the longest in league history.
His tie said it all.
In his nearly 21 years as commissioner, one would be challenged to find a photo of Stern in anything but a red tie. On this night, it was, appropriately, gray.
If he wasn't quite as fluent with his speech, forgive him.
"I've spent the weekend viewing more angles and tapes and plays than I have in many years combined," he said.
He had combed over the reports from what clearly can be termed as an investigation. Eighty-six people, including players, coaches, referees and fans had been interviewed by the league in a 48-hour period.
"To watch the out-of-control fans in the stands was disgusting," Stern said. "It doesn't excuse our players from going into the stands."
It was, he said, the worst fight he had ever seen in the more than 20,000 games played under his watch.
Anyone who showed up in person to this huge, non-descript room at Madison Square Garden where Stern held court, realized how big a story this had become. The fight was replayed over and over again and, on Sunday night, it passed the ultimate test. The news conference was taking place at the exact time that Cleveland Cavaliers sensation LeBron James was warming up on the court less than 100 yards away, trying to find his shot for the game against the New York Knicks.
Two men rushed to put up an official NBA banner. Adam Silver, president and chief operating officer of NBA Entertainment took a position toward the back of the room. NBA spokesman Tim Frank readied to direct the barrage of questions from reporters.
With at the most an hour's notice, haggard journalists and photographers had reported to the room, some still in their New York Jets jerseys and Yankees caps.
On Sunday night, all the cameras were focused on Stern. When he put his hands to his lips to contemplate whether he thought the repeated coverage of Friday's fight had something to do with a fight among football players in Saturday's South Carolina-Clemson game, a flurry of clicks came from the front.
The photographers craved for a different look from the Commish.
He didn't even crack a smile when he uttered what most in the room considered a funny line. When asked if the rest-of-the-season suspension of Ron Artest was a unanimous decision, Stern replied that it in fact was, though the final tally -- as Stern put it -- was "one to nothing," since he had the only vote.
Stern was confident that his decision on Artest was the right one, admitting that his previous conduct had an effect on the ruling.
Outside the room, those who watched the replays on television, didn't think it would be that harsh.
Knicks great and current radio broadcaster Walt "Clyde" Frazier said he thought Artest's penalty would be 30 to 50 games.
"He has a personality -- he's like a villain for the crowd because of what he does," Frazier said. "That brings some different type of hostility they have for him."
Cavaliers guard Ira Newble said he didn't agree with the suspension because Artest "didn't even look like he did much."
"It definitely sends a message not to cross that line," Newble said. "But I can't say that I wouldn't have crossed that line in the same situation. To be honest with you, I think most guys in this league would have crossed that line."
Newble said he hopes the league finds the fan who threw the cup on Artest, who was hit with it while laying on the scorer's table, and suspends the fan for the year as well.
Stern made clear that Sunday night's announcements were supposed to be the beginning of a process. The league will seek to remedy the issue of fan-player behavior. That might mean, he said, working with beer vendors to possibly cut off sales earlier in the game. It won't mean, he hopes, putting up plastic barriers or playing the rematch in an empty arena.
Darren Rovell, who covers sports business for ESPN.com, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org