It's been 2,711 days since Ron Artest did the seemingly unthinkable—running into the stands of The Palace at Auburn Hills and inciting a brawl that forever vandalized the imaginary wall between player and fan.
In those 2,711 days, a lot has changed for Ron Ron. He won a championship (and provided one of the best moments in postgame-interview history); He one-upped Chad Ochocinco in the competition for "Most Frivolous Name Change"; but more than anything else, he appeared to have repaired, or at least slightly assuaged, his reputation as the biggest delinquent in the NBA.
That's 2,711 days of (mostly) forward progress.
But on April 22nd, 2012, that momentum predictably—almost inevitably—came to an irreparable halt. The question now becomes simple: What do we do with him?
The wrath that Artest unleashed unto James Harden's cranium this afternoon certainly wasn't as criminal as his actions eight years ago, but they were violent enough that they require a very delicate examination in the coming days. Plus, his punishment has to factor in the fact that he's a repeat offender, right?
After the brawl in 2004, Artest was issued a year-long ban from the NBA, which would eventually total 86 games (the longest suspension for on-court behavior in NBA history). Although Ron was on his best behavior during his time off, his re-instatement still came with an implicit zero-tolerance clause for bad behavior on a basketball court.
Imagine if the MLB only suspended Pete Rose for one season after he was caught betting on games. Would he get any sympathy if the league caught him making lower-stake side bets eight years later? Would it matter if he was squeaky-clean in between the two incidents? No. He would have had to be gambling-scandal free for the rest of his life.
Artest was able to survive a domestic violence fiasco in 2010 (not quite squeaky-clean) with nothing more than a seven-game suspension, but that incident took place off the court. For Artest to commit another on-court assault—in a highly publicized, nationally televised game, no less—is absolutely ludicrous. It's the league's nightmare scenario.
By all accounts (except maybe the woman he allegedly assaulted), Ron Artest isn't what you would classify as a bad person. He's criminally misunderstood, sure, but he isn't someone who laces up his shoes with the intent to do harm. What he has proven, however, is that when he gets too amped up on adrenaline, he becomes a danger to the people in his physical proximity.
Unfortunately for Ron, his job happens to require that he amp himself up on adrenaline, and fling his body into other people. Thus—all accusations about his morality aside—as long as he's allowed to play in the NBA, he will always be a danger to those around him.
Which makes David Stern, and the rest of the league office's, decision that much more complicated. One could argue that, given the conclusion we formulated above, the NBA should never let Ron Artest play again. It's their job to keep their players safe, and every time Ron Artest steps onto a court, it's explosively counter-productive to that endeavor.
It would seem disproportional to give him the Death Penalty for this after only giving him one year for the brawl in 2004 though, right?
The media is speculating suspensions as short as five-games, which I think would be a gross blunder. Anyone who saw the slow-motion replay on Harden's skull shifting knows that this was a more serious offense.
I don't know what I would do if I were David Stern, but I do know that that this needs to be taken seriously. Otherwise, this won't be the last time we have this conversation.
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