Originally created 11/22/04

Pacers-Pistons melee another black eye for Detroit



DETROIT - The sight of Detroit fans scuffling with NBA stars at the end of a game and showering players with beer, ice and popcorn gives the city another black eye as it struggles to overcome a well-worn reputation for violence and unrest.

Four players were suspended for Friday's brawl at the Pistons-Pacers game, and police, league officials and others debated who was to blame. But most agreed TV footage of the hostile fans - replayed endlessly on sports and news programs over the weekend - would not help perceptions of the city.

"Unfortunately, I think it reemphasizes the stereotypes that many people elsewhere have about Detroit," said Ilya Snyder, 34, a lifelong Detroiter and owner of Karras Bros. tavern near downtown.

Detroit has worked hard to improve its image, reviving its downtown, reducing crime and enticing residents and businesses that fled in past decades to return. This summer's celebration of the Pistons' NBA championship was jubilant and peaceful, and the September Ryder Cup golf matches unfolded without a hiccup.

But as the city prepares for other high-profile events such as next year's Major League All-Star game and the 2006 Super Bowl, it must now live down one of the worst brawls in NBA history - an echo of the city's past sports-related messes.

Friday's game, which Indiana won 97-82, was televised nationally from the Pistons' suburban Detroit arena. Officials stopped the game with 45.9 seconds remaining after pushing and shoving between the teams spilled into the stands when fans started throwing ice and drinks at players.

Indiana's Ron Artest, Jermaine O'Neal and Stephen Jackson and Detroit's Ben Wallace were suspended by the NBA, and police were investigating.

"The game was pretty much over when it happened, and there might have been only a thousand people left in the arena, but everybody in Detroit gets a black eye," Snyder said.

The city has worked hard to live down other sports-related violence, such as the overturning and torching of police cars after the Detroit Tigers won the World Series in 1984. When the Pistons won the NBA championship in 1990, seven people were killed, six of them hit by cars, and hundreds were injured by gunfire, stabbings and fighting. Looting and raucous behavior led to dozens of arrests.

But celebrations after the Red Wings' Stanley Cup victories in 1997, 1998 and 2002 were largely peaceful, as were Detroit's ovation and parade for the Pistons' most recent NBA title in June.

"Just six months ago people were praising our fans around the country, saying what a great atmosphere and exciting place this was to watch basketball," Tom Wilson, Pistons chief executive, said Saturday. He said Friday's brawl is "something we're going to have to acknowledge and make up for."

Detroit remains "the poster child for everything that's bad" to some on a national level, said Kurt Metzger, research director of the Center for Urban Studies at Wayne State University.

Violent crime has dropped in Detroit in recent years, though it still has one of the highest violent crime rates among the nation's largest cities. It also remains one of the nation's poorest cities, behind Cleveland.

"Detroit hasn't gotten to a point - and I'm not sure what it's going to take - like Atlanta, Boston, Denver or Seattle that could take this kind of activity and have it be kind of a blip, an episode of sports violence," Metzger said.

"People around the country seem to have this idea: 'Of course, there's Detroit, wouldn't you know that's the place it's always going to happen.'"

Snyder said it was especially unfortunate for the brawl to garner such unwanted attention on the same weekend as the opening of Campus Martius Park, a centerpiece of Detroit's downtown revitalization efforts.

The city has also built two new professional sports stadiums and three casinos, and launched a massive push to transform the riverfront from a depository of abandoned buildings into a six-mile promenade. The new park features a skating rink, a cafe and an eye-catching fountain.

"No one in the national media would even think of doing a story on Campus Martius," Snyder said. "But a brawl at an NBA game is an opportunity to take more shots at Detroit."