Friday, October 13, 2006

Stephen Jackson – When is enough, enough already

National Basketball Association commissioner David Stern can’t be that surprised Indiana Pacers forward Stephen Jackson is in serious trouble again. Wednesday, the Indianapolis Police Department filed a “Probable-cause affidavit” against Jackson relating to an alleged incident that took place between Jackson and patrons at Indianapolis Club Rio, a “gentlemen’s club”.

Jackson and Pacers teammate Jermaine O'Neal were two of the three principals involved in the November 19, 2004 incident at the Palace at Auburn Hills, where Jackson, O’Neal and former Pacer Ron Artest went into the seats at the Detroit Pistons home arena. Both Jackson and O’Neal went directly from high school to playing professional basketball bypassing college. Casual NBA observers believe the actions of O’Neal and Jackson directly led to the Stern and the NBA, and the NBA Players Association reaching an agreement whereby the NBA would institute a 19-year old minimum age requirement. If the current NBA CBA had been in place when O’Neal and Jackson had graduated high school both athletes would have attended university and played NCAA basketball for at least one season.

In Jackson’s case, he has proven on several occasions his level of maturity off the court has directly impacted his abilities as a basketball player.

• Nov. 19, 2004: Four months after joining the Pacers, Jackson punches a fan in the stands during a brawl that involves several players and fans near the end of a game between the Pacers and the Detroit Pistons at the Palace of Auburn Hills, Mich.

• Nov. 21, 2004: The NBA suspends Jackson for 30 games for his role in the brawl.

• Dec. 8, 2004: Oakland County, Mich., prosecutor charges Jackson with one misdemeanor count of assault and battery as a result of the brawl. Four other Pacers players are also charged.

• Feb. 2, 2005: Jackson verbally abuses an official over a foul called during a game. Teammates have to lead him off the court. The NBA suspends him for one game.

• Sept. 23, 2005: A Michigan judge sentences Jackson (along with Ron Artest and O'Neal) to one year of probation, 60 hours of community service and a $250 fine on misdemeanor assault and battery charges related to the November 2004 brawl. All had pleaded no contest to the charges.

• Dec. 23, 2005: In a game against the Cleveland Cavaliers, Jackson is ejected after arguing an official's call against Jamaal Tinsley. Three days later, the NBA fines Jackson $20,000 for making an obscene gesture after the ejection. He appeals the fine, saying he did not make the gesture.

• September 2006: Michael Ryan of Clarkston, Mich., files a lawsuit against Jackson (and Artest) alleging the two players assaulted him during the November 2004 brawl at the Palace of Auburn Hills.

• Oct. 6, 2006: Jackson fires shots into the air in the parking lot at Club Rio, 5054 W. 38th St., at about 3 a.m. after police said he was assaulted by another club patron and hit by a car.

• Oct. 11, 2006: Jackson is charged with felony criminal recklessness, and battery and disorderly conduct, both misdemeanors, after admitting he kicked a man during the fight.

The Pacers immediate concern, the damage done to their reputation after Jackson and three of his Pacers’ teammate where at an Indianapolis “gentlemen’s club” at 4 AM at the start of the organizations training camp. Pacers’ President and CEO Donnie Walsh and President of Basketball Operations Larry Bird addressed the media Wednesday after the charges against Jackson had been filed.

“I'm very disappointed. I think we all spent a lot of time during the summer understanding that we came through two years where we had problems, the Detroit brawl and then the way our team performed last year. We went out and tried to change the team in a very dramatic way, the best way that we could and I think we felt really optimistic that we had a lot of good guys coming in here and the combination of those players and the players we had would change the atmosphere in the locker room.” Walsh told the media.

“I think, going through the first week of practice before this incident, both Larry and I were overjoyed because it looked like we had that. This came as a jolt to us that this incident occurred. We know our players were wrong for being out late at night in a nightclub. Past that, we really didn't know what took place after that. We've been kind of trying to hear and read exactly what took place. I can't say we're caught by surprise that charges were brought because there was enough in what I heard that they could've been. That's kind of where we are right now,” Walsh continued.

Walsh came right to the heart of the matter – are Stephen Jackson’s action impacting the Pacers ability to sell tickets?

“I think it's hurt quite a lot because I think during the summer we got out and tried to change the team and we communicated that and I was very optimistic they were going to like this team a lot and I still am in that regard. But I think this incident has kind of tarnished everything and so we're going to have to overcome that. The only way to overcome that is by our behavior as a team and also by our play on the court. That's the only thing left for us to do. That's what we have to do,” commented Walsh.

Even more pointed – if Jackson remains on the Pacers roster does Walsh believe the Pacers be able to win back their fans?

“I hope so because I think we're in a position now that American fair play dictates that we go forward like this. There has been precedent in the league, which I'm not going to mention to embarrass other franchises, you all know. We're going to have to try to do that. It'll come back to what we thought before this incident, that Stephen was coming in focused, ready to play, he understood some of the things we talked about as far as people that felt negatively about and he was going to try to change those things. Those things will have to be done now.” Walsh said.

Former Pacer great and certain Basketball Hall of Famer Reggie Jackson told ESPN he’s very concerned about the reputation of the only NBA team he played for in his 18-year career is in a state of shambles.

"That's ridiculous," Miller said. "That is a black cloud. That is a punch in the gut for [team CEO] Donnie Walsh and [team president] Larry Bird.''

Miller wasn’t the only former Pacer calling out the organization and the serious image issues the franchise has to deal with.

"On ESPN this morning, they were making fun of the Indiana Pacers," former Pacers guard Billy Keller said Friday. "Even though I'm not a part of this group, I still carry an Indiana Pacer name with me. To be associated with something that looks to be a very negative thing, it does reflect on all of us. It's a sad thing for the Indiana Pacers, and I'm part of it.

"I didn't feel very good about it. We don't want to be a laughingstock."

The Pacers have an aggressive preseason publicity campaign, with television ads and billboards featuring players and the "It's up to us" slogan.

"You shouldn't stand behind a player that is someone slapping you guys in the face during the middle of training camp being out at a strip club at 3 o'clock in the morning shooting it up like it's the Wild, Wild West."

The Pacers opened Conseco Fieldhouse at the start of the 1999-00 season. The Pacers sold out their first season at Conseco, selling 752,145 tickets, averaging 18,345 fans per game. The drops in attendance have been subtle, but the Pacers are no longer selling out their home games. Their attendance for the 2004-05 season (the year of the Brawl at the Palace) the Pacers sold 696,764 tickets, averaging 16,994 fans per game or 91.9 percent capacity. The Pacers attendance dropped last year, falling to 663,368 fans per game averaging 16,179 or 87.5 percent capacity.

The Pacers made it to the NBA Finals during their first year at Conseco, winning 56 games in 1999-20000. Three first round playoff exits followed. The Pacers won 61 games in 2003-04, losing in the conference final. The 2004-04 season (the year of the Brawl) the Pacers won 44 games and lost in the second round of the playoffs. Last year, the Pacers again lost in the first round of the NBA playoffs, winning 41 games.

Bird and Walsh revamped the Pacers roster, signing 11 new players. Artest left the Pacers a few years ago, O’Neal and Jackson are two key members of the team, two key parts in the resurrection of the franchise. Friday morning after learning of the incident that involved Jackson and Jamaal Tinsley, Marquis Daniels and Jimmie "Snap" Hunter, the Pacers suspended their “It's up to us" campaign. The Pacers purchased newspaper ads, sprinkled billboards throughout the city and appeared in commercials touting their new image: "It's up to us."

Dan McQuiston, Associate Professor of Marketing at Butler University told Indianapolis WTHR-TV the situation "very difficult" for the team. "Rule number one is when you're in a hole, stop digging and unfortunately this latest incident is a case of the Pacers going deeper into that hole and the hole is difficult to get out of."

McQuiston says the Pacers have a serious image problem. "People are getting kind of fed up with this behavior, because (the players) are in the public eye and are held to a higher standard and you expect more from players than that."

“The key thing about an image, a public image," McQuiston said, "is if you don't work hard to create that image it will be created in the public eye for you and that's the path the Pacers are finding themselves in."

Larry the Legend is all that and a great deal more to basketball in Indiana. A true Hoosier Legend, when Larry Bird speaks – Indiana basketball fans listen.

"This is a big impact, there's no question about it," Bird told the media Wednesday. "I'm sure season ticket holders are very frustrated with us right now. We have to believe we're going to make the change and do the right thing. We will do it and it's just going to take some time."

The Pacers averaged 16,180 fans a game last season -- their lowest average total since 1997-98. Playoff attendance was even lower.

"They basically shot themselves in the foot, no pun intended," Marc Ganis, president of Sportscorp Ltd., a Chicago-based sports consultancy firm told The Indianapolis Star. “It's incredibly counterproductive when a team is trying to re-establish its connection to their fan base. That really can't help them win back fans.”

"An observer would be shocked by the behavior after everything that has happened to the franchise in the past. You would think things would be headed in the right direction. This latest incident will cause some to wonder what's going on with the Pacers just like they did when all that stuff was happening with the Portland Trail Blazers."

What exactly should the Pacers do? Standard NBA player contracts include a morality clause. It’s unlikely the Pacers will be able to release Jackson based on what took place last week. If however, Jackson is convicted Walsh told the Indianapolis media he believed the team would have the right to ‘terminate’ the contract. Was Stephen Jackson in the wrong place at the wrong time – absolutely! The issue of “what were four members of the Pacers doing at a ‘gentlemen’s club” at 4 AM is really a moot point. They were four young men with too much money and too much time on their hands. The end result was and is a disaster for the Pacers and the NBA. And worse, Stephen Jackson’s behavior has proven time and time again to be morally reprehensible.

For Sports Business News this is Howard Bloom. Sources cited in this Insider Report: the Indianapolis Star

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