Mbenga suspended six games for entering stands

Updated: June 2, 2006, 8:01 AM ET
Associated Press

DALLAS -- Mavericks backup center DJ Mbenga was suspended without pay for six games Thursday for going into the stands to aid the wife of coach Avery Johnson during Game 4 of the Western Conference finals in Phoenix.

The punishment is one game longer than New York Knicks forward Antonio Davis received in January for going from the court into the stands to defend his wife.

"It's very difficult to swallow," said Dallas president of basketball operation Donnie Nelson. "My understanding is he went up there with the intention of telling AJ's wife to go back into the locker room."

Mavs owner Mark Cuban -- who also went into the stands, but wasn't punished for it -- said he pressed the league to consider the Davis precedent.

"They weren't buying it," he said.

NBA vice president Stu Jackson said Mbenga actually got a reduction from the 10-game suspension the league considers a baseline for this offense.

"We ended up at six because DJ certainly went up there very calmly and there was not an altercation of any kind," Jackson said.

Jackson said Davis got a break because he believed his spouse was in trouble.

"DJ went into the stands for someone that was albeit someone he knew, it was not an immediate family member," Jackson said.

The NBA has talked about being strict with players who go into the stands, especially after the brawl during a Pistons-Pacers game in Detroit in 2004.

Mbenga was on the bench in street clothes, having been made inactive for Tuesday night's game, when he joined Cuban and other team officials when they saw that Cassandra Johnson was involved in a first-quarter confrontation with fans.

The league said in a statement that Cuban was off the hook because "his actions did not violate NBA rules and were not otherwise inappropriate."

Earlier this postseason, he was fined $100,000 for going on the court to argue with officials. Five years ago, he was suspended for two games and fined $10,000 for running on the court to break up a fight that started because the Mavs were trying to score enough points for fans to earn free chalupas from a fast food restaurant.

"This wasn't a chalupa moment," Cuban said. "It was something totally different. ... I have a responsibility to everyone who puts on a uniform and their families. Period, end of story."

Mbenga is the second Dallas player suspended during these playoffs. Guard Jason Terry was forced to miss Game 6 of the second round against San Antonio for punching Michael Finley.

"DJ thought that he could assist the coach's family," Johnson said. "I hope somebody would have grabbed him before he went and took the two or three steps or whatever he did. So it's very disappointing. But we're all one big family. We're in it together."

Mbenga's punishment began with Game 5 on Thursday night. With the series tied 2-2, he'll use up at least one more game of the suspension this round. If any games are left after the playoffs, it'll pick up again at the start of next season.

His absence against the Suns likely won't hurt the Mavericks much since he'd been inactive all series. Plus, the length of the suspension enables the team to put him on the suspended list, which means someone else doesn't have to be made inactive.

Where this hurts Dallas is if the club advances to play either Miami or Detroit in the NBA Finals because both teams have multiple big frontcourt players the 7-foot, 245-pound Mbenga could be used against.

"We all know DJ is not a starting-five kind of guy," Nelson said. "But is there a place for him? Absolutely. We just have to deal with it."

According to all involved, Cassandra Johnson was upset that a man and woman kept standing and cheering, blocking the view of her children. Johnson was accused of hitting the woman twice during a verbal confrontation; Johnson told police she did not make any physical contact.

Phoenix police said the matter would be turned over to the city prosecutor to determine if any misdemeanor charge should be filed.


Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press

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