NEW YORK Ron Artest was suspended for the rest of the season Sunday as the NBA came down hard on three members of the Indiana Pacers for fighting with fans as a game against the Detroit Pistons degenerated into a melee.
Nine players from the teams were banned for a combined 143 games, including some of the harshest penalties the league has ever issued. Artest is the first player to be suspended for nearly an entire season for a fight during a game.
Pushing and shoving among players at Friday's game escalated into one of the worst fights in U.S. professional sports history when a fan threw a drink at Artest and he jumped into the stands, throwing punches. Nine people were treated for injuries, none serious.
"The actions of the players involved wildly exceeded the professionalism and self-control that should fairly be expected from NBA players," NBA commissioner David Stern said in a statement. He added that the league must not "allow our sport to be debased by what seem to be declining expectations."
Indiana's Stephen Jackson was suspended for 30 games and Jermaine O'Neal for 25. Detroit's Ben Wallace whose shove of Artest after a foul led to the five-minute fracas drew a six-game ban, while Pacers guard Anthony Johnson got five games.
Four players were suspended for a game apiece: Indiana's Reggie Miller and Detroit's Chauncey Billups, Elden Campbell and Derrick Coleman.
All the suspensions are without pay.
Artest, O'Neal and Jackson who all threw punches at fans in the stands or on the court at the end of the nationally televised game Friday night began serving their suspensions Saturday, when they and Wallace received indefinite suspensions. Indiana, limited to just six players because of the suspensions and injuries, dropped an 86-83 decision to Orlando.
Stern also noted that fans who threw punches of their own and tossed drinks at players shared the blame for the brawl. He said the NBA must "redefine the bounds of acceptable conduct for fans attending our games and resolve to permanently exclude those who overstep those bounds."
He added that security procedures in all NBA arenas will be reviewed and rules need to be added to prevent a repeat of what happened at Auburn Hills, Mich., on Friday.
Police were continuing to investigate the brawl, one of the NBA's most violent.
Artest and Jackson bolted into the stands near center court and throwing punches at fans after debris was tossed at the players. Later, fans who came onto the court were punched in the face by Artest and O'Neal.
Wallace began the fracas by delivering a hard, two-handed shove to Artest after Wallace was fouled on a drive to the basket with 45.9 seconds remaining. Referees ultimately called off the rest of the game.
The initial skirmish wasn't all that bad, with Artest retreating to the scorer's table and lying atop it after Wallace sent him reeling backward. But when a fan tossed a cup at Artest, he stormed into the stands, throwing punches as he climbed over seats.
Jackson joined Artest and threw punches at fans, who punched back. Indiana players were pelted with drinks, popcorn and other items as they left the court; at one point, a chair was tossed into the fray.
The most recent example of an NBA player going into the stands and punching a fan came in 1995, when Vernon Maxwell of the Houston Rockets pummeled a spectator in Portland, Ore. The league suspended him for 10 games and fined him $20,000.
Among the harshest non-drug-related penalties in NBA history was a one-year suspension of Latrell Sprewell later reduced to 68 games for choking Golden State Warriors coach P.J. Carlesimo at practice.
Artest was benched for two games this month for asking Pacers coach Rick Carlisle for time off because of a busy schedule that included promoting a rap album.
Artest was suspended twice by the NBA last season, once for leaving the bench during a fracas at a Pacers-Celtics playoff game; the other for elbowing Portland's Derek Anderson. During the 2002-03 season, Artest was suspended five times by the NBA and once by the Pacers for a total of 12 games.
Artest also once grabbed a television camera and smashed it to the ground after a loss to the Knicks two years ago.