His sentence should be ended nowSteve Hammer

The cause of justice took a small step forward last week with the return of Ron Artest to the Pacers' practice squad. Now it's well past time to end the injustice inflicted upon him and return him to a Pacers uniform and gameplay.

Don't laugh. In an interview on TNT last Thursday, NBA Commissioner David Stern sounded conciliatory when asked about the prospects of reducing Artest's unjust sentence.

In the weeks and months since the November brawl, new evidence has emerged that makes a stronger argument for the commutation of Artest's sentence. Stern himself more or less admitted in December that the sentences handed down were too extreme but that he needed to make a stand.

According to legendary NBA writer Peter Vecsey, Stern realizes the NBA has an image problem in the so-called "red states." Because the red states hate the NBA so much, it needed to crack down on Artest in a brutal fashion.

Of course, when you say "the red states," you actually mean "white people." There used to be a different phrase and coding for that philosophy.

And Stern may be right. That's why the league is developing promotional campaigns with tons and tons of white people talking about how much they love the NBA. He's trying to play it safe in this second Bush term, where things are scary and keep getting scarier.

He's trying to protect his career, Stern is. But if he really wanted to show backbone, he should immediately reinstate Artest and end his term as a political prisoner.

I finally obtained a copy of the raw video from that night off the Internet. And it puts the events of Nov. 19 into perspective.

Remember, it all started when Ben Wallace shoved Artest after a hard, but not flagrant, foul. Even Bill Walton, calling the game for ESPN, said, "It wasn't that hard a foul."

The criminal acts committed that night were done by drunken Detroit fans and maybe some of their players, not any of the Indiana Pacers. Except for Artest, I think they showed remarkable calm and reason.

In rewatching the tape, it's obvious that the Pacers were facing a hostile environment. I kept expecting Reggie Miller, who was wearing a business suit that night, to pull a 9mm out of his jacket and start blasting back.

It was an unfair fight. A dozen players against an entire arena full of drunk hillbillies, gangsters and old ladies. Artest, Jermaine O'Neal and Stephen Jackson showed courage in the middle of the war.

Let's get real here. Artest gets a one-year sentence while an Army general can give a speech and say, "It's fun to kill people," and not get fired, as happened last week.

Meanwhile, Bob Kravitz, the jackass columnist for the Indy Star, expends millions of gallons of ink in moral outrage against Artest and the others. He advocates getting rid of Artest in exchange for some equipment and socks.

The great moral fabric of our society will be ripped to shreds if Artest is allowed to wear a Pacers uniform again, he seems to say. He says Artest is a disgrace, shameful and not that great a player.

Despite saying that, he claims that losing Artest for the season probably cost Reggie Miller his last chance for a championship ring.

Since Kravitz, like the rest of the Indy Star staff, was brought in from out of state to write down to us uneducated Hoosiers, it's understandable that he doesn't know Indiana history as well as we do.

The person Miller needs to blame for his not having won a championship isn't Artest, but Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls, arguably the best team ever assembled in the league's history, and a team which the Pacers failed to defeat in the playoffs.

It's not Artest's fault that the Pacers led the Bulls with five minutes to go in game seven of the '98 Eastern Conference Finals but couldn't close the deal. It's not Artest's fault that Miller's potential game-winning shot cost the Pacers game four of the 2000 NBA Finals.

Artest is the unwitting victim of a game he never intended to play. When he threw those punches, he played right into the hands of people such as Kravitz and the red-state basketball haters. They anticipated him to fail and he obliged them.

But as I said at the time, it was about damned time somebody from Indiana threw a punch at someone. This state has been too wimpy too long. Even when our NFL team's quarterback has a Babe Ruth-style season, they still choke in the playoffs.

Face it. Indianapolis teams are cursed. So why not respond with extreme retribution when under attack? Until someone undoes the curse, we're fated to never win anything.

And as far as the brutality of the punches thrown by Artest, O'Neal and Jackson goes, sure, it was an unfair fight. Fat drunk people were up against world-class athletes.

But look at our country these days. Destroying weaker opponents is the hallmark of American foreign policy. It wasn't China or North Korea we invaded, but instead a wounded Iraqi regime.

Maybe instead of hiring movie starlets to do TV ads for the NBA, maybe they should show clips of the president describing our military policies. That should get the Republicans on board with the NBA as nothing else could.

Meanwhile, the persecution of Ron Artest continues. As long as one valiant warrior is being oppressed, none of us is truly free. Write Stern a letter. Mail your congressman.

Artest has served his sentence. It is time to free him.


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