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Reaction mixed to recent NBA brawl

By Justin Boron

LaTreace Johnson leaned forward with outrage on the sideline of her basketball practice at Jonesboro High School.

The mere mention of the penalties that the National Basketball Association and Detroit prosecutors handed down to players and fans involved in the Nov. 19 melee sent her into a tizzy.

Firm on the matter, she said that Indiana Pacers player Ron Artest shouldn't have been suspended as harshly as he was because he didn't start the fight.

"He's got to protect himself," said Johnson, 17, a senior forward for the Lady Cardinals. "It was assault, but you never charge anybody when it is self-defense."

Following several stringent NBA suspensions, including one that sidelines Artest for the season, Detroit prosecutors charged five Indiana Pacers and seven fans Wednesday for their responsibility in one of the worst fights in the league's history.

According to law enforcement accounts, Detroit fan John Green threw a drink at Artest, who then charged into the stands and attacked a man he thought had thrown the drink. Other Pacers followed him, and the brawl spread through the stands and then back on the court, as some fans walked down to confront the players.

An on-court foul by Piston Ben Wallace on Artest initially led to the chaos.

Johnson's reaction to the incident was one of many strong responses from local basketball players and coaches, who regardless of their opinion, say both players and fans crossed a clear line.

After the incident, Lovejoy High School Head Basketball Coach Rick Francis said he sat down his players and discussed with them the importance of allowing proper authorities to handle an escalating situation.

"Cooler heads should have prevailed," he said.

But Francis said he couldn't help but have some sympathy for Artest.

"It takes an extremely strong person not to revert to the type of violence that you saw," he said. "As a [former] New Yorker, I understand the way Artest reacted and his background, but he has some deep-rooted problems."

Lovejoy senior players Kisean Pringley, 17, and Peter Akajiobi, 18, also said they thought the scope of culpability extended beyond just the players.

"The security should have been more up on it," Pringley said.

Several local players suggested Artest's background and history of suspensions were the reason he has been scrutinized so much after this incident.

"The only reason they took it hard on Artest is because of his past history with technical fouls," said Sheena Brown, 18, a senior power forward and center for the Lady Cardinals. "They shouldn't have suspended him that long."

But Luella High School Varsity Head Basketball Coach Stephen Adkins disagreed with the two Jonesboro players, saying the penalties and criminal charges were absolutely necessary.

"If that had happened on the street corner, they would have been locked up," he said. "Right is right and wrong is wrong, no matter where it happens."

Adkins said the brawl is indicative of a social problem in which young people are not taught how to distinguish between right and wrong, which he believes are relatively absolute concepts.

"It starts more in the home," he said. "If you get people continually having problems like this, somewhere, somehow they lose, or were never taught, how to handle things."

The Associated Press contributed to this article.