He made Indiana badass againSteve Hammer

You can add the name of Ron Artest to the long list of victims of the American justice system following his suspension from the NBA.

But you can also say something else about Ron Artest. He is a MAN, perhaps even a great man, one deserving of your respect and admiration.

Here are the facts about Friday's brawl, as I see them: * Ron Artest was being attacked. He defended himself and his teammates. Why? Because he is a man. Jermaine O'Neal and Stephen Jackson, same thing. If you're stupid and drunk enough to try and charge a 7-foot NBA player, you deserve to get hit - and hit hard.

* There have been dozens of similar incidents in the past in pro sports over the years. None were punished as severely.

My conclusion: Ron Artest is a hero to me for decking those Detroit rednecks. Why?

Because it was ABOUT DAMNED TIME someone around here threw a punch.

Ever since the results came in from Ohio on election night, I've been looking for a reason to hit someone. Anyone.

But Ron Artest did it for me instead.

That's why I love Ron Artest and honor him as one of the all-time great Indiana Pacers, worthy of his jersey in the rafters and a plaque in the NBA Hall of Fame someday.

Ron Artest punched those dudes so I didn't have to.

He saved me a night in the city-county lockup. Now I don't have to go out and kick someone's ass and spend $3,000 fighting an assault charge.

The incident in Detroit was ugly, but so was the video from Iraq last week. I remember in the '70s when the Reds would get pelted with whiskey bottles and D-cell batteries by wasted Mets fans.

But, as far as I can tell, Ron Artest is almost unanimously beloved by the people of this city and we would be crushed if he were forced to leave the Pacers.

Here's why Indiana owes Ron Artest our support.

In a time of national turmoil, Artest, O'Neal, Jackson and the rest of the Pacers sent a very clear and persuasive message to America on our behalf: Don't fuck with Indiana.

And it's our Midwestern neighbors who need to hear that message most loudly and emphatically.

Don't get me wrong; I'm not advocating driving to Detroit and kicking some ass. Indiana is unprepared for a conventional war with Michigan right now. For one thing, our National Guard is in Iraq and every Michigan citizen owns at least a .22. Most pack much heavier heat than that, all the way from the south to the Upper Peninsula.

Leaders of Michigan, do not try to enforce an arrest warrant against Mr. Artest in the state of Indiana, please. Our new governor is a patriot and he will never sign an extradition order.

Our other bordering neighbors should also heed the message the Pacers delivered last Friday.

Illinois, WHAT ARE YOU LOOKING AT? This doesn't concern you. Kentucky? Not you this time either, so STFU. We are 762-3 against you. Keep sending us the whiskey and we won't have to kick your hillbilly asses again.

It's YOU that I'm talking to, Ohio. You vote-fraudin', trailer-dwellin', bratwurst-eatin', Natty Light-drinkin' morons. THAT's who I'm talking to.

You saw what happened in Detroit. Blue-state Hoosiers are getting ready to come take over your turf next, bitch Ohio bitch-ass punks.

Remember all those dead people who voted for Bush in your state this year? Call the coroner! Do they want company? And how were those optical ballots scanned again? Oh, OK, the exit polls were wrong JUST THERE.

I am confident of future peaceful relations between us and the good people of Michigan. Our bonds with Michigan are strong and their people are not our ultimate enemies.

Our eastern neighbors in Ohio are the ones who most trouble me. A forceful show of strength and determination by the state of Indiana against Ohio would, I believe, cause them to re-examine their policies. Cincinnati, particularly, is an area of concern. Its poor race relations, occasional riots and beer-drenched women bring instability to our region.

Bottom line. Indiana has proven itself to the entire nation as a badass state. We're now a state America knows it would be unwise to provoke, lest trouble ensue.

Ron Artest is a champion. He is a warrior. In this case, it is unfortunately so. But he has my respect and my support. And I'm going to buy his album the day it comes out.

The same thing isn't going to happen here. Conseco Fieldhouse is an extremely safe and secure environment. The facility has intelligent alcohol-sales policies.

More than that, Indiana fans exhibit class no matter how drunk we are. We talked smack to Spike Lee in the '90s, but we also made sure the IPD got him safely to the limo after the game.

The Indiana Pacers franchise earns its fan support in part through the team's love of the community. The Pacers and the Simons have always loved Indianapolis as much as we have loved them. I hope they realize their fans love Ron Artest and keep him on the team.

I say this as a man who saw his first Pacers game in 1971, at the age of 6, and who lives and dies by the team. My heart has been broken much worse by the Pacers, such as when Kentucky beat us in the ABA Finals. Or when Jordan willed that game seven victory in '98. Or in 2000, when Kobe took over in OT.

This is Indiana. But even here, it's just basketball. Take a deep breath.

Note for future reference: The Hoosier state flag and the Pacers' uniforms share the same colors: blue and gold. Unlike the Colts, the Pacers are ours. Ron Artest is one of us.

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