We must free our political prisoner, Ron ArtestSteve Hammer

A couple of images stand out in my mind this week. When you enter the media room at Conseco Fieldhouse, that most friendly and wonderful facility, you immediately notice the framed pictures along the walls. Front pages from great moments in Indiana basketball history are alternated with portraits of the greatest sportswriters our state has known.

Then you look again at the portraits. There's Robin Miller. There's Bill Benner. There's Mark Monteith. There's Conrad Brunner. All of them, by any standard, rank with the best Hoosier writers ever.

Then you realize something else. All of those reporters have either been kicked out the door at The Indianapolis Star, or at least given a Ben Wallace-sized shove towards it.

Their replacements? Talented, nice people from out of state who don't know jack about the state of Indiana and care even less. We're just a waystation on their upward career path, in the same way that a super-hot female anchorwoman in this market counts down the days until she can go on the air in Chicago or Denver.

The people who grew up in The Star newsroom, chasing down stories and covering auto races, fires, cops and high school cross-country, are all gone now, replaced with automatons who wish they were in Atlanta or Houston.

In an ironic turn of events, the best and most accurate news about the Pacers comes from the Pacers themselves, who had the foresight to hire Brunner and have him work the same beat.

You find out much more from his reports on Pacers.com, and from the TV and radio announcers, who are also employed by the team, than you do from the so-called independent media like The Star.

All during this historically challenging season for the Pacers, Brunner's stories and columns have been an oasis of sanity in a desert filled with jackasses.

One of the biggest jackasses of all, Bob Kravitz, pulled a George W. Bush last week and reversed four months of pious columns attacking our political prisoner, Ron Artest, and suggested that any future Pacers-Pistons games be played in an empty arena.

It's not a new suggestion; it happens in international soccer all the time when riots break out. But Kravitz nearly sprained his Rolexed arm patting himself on the back for coming up with the idea.

Four months of mail, and the overwhelming tide of public opinion, must have gotten to him.

Kravitz also offended all of Indiana in a recent column in which he trashed women's basketball. He called it boring and dull and not worth writing about.

Let me break it down for you, Bob. Women's basketball rules because, well, it just does. Look at the two words that form the name of the sport. You have WOMEN, the most wonderful of all of God's creations, playing BASKETBALL, the greatest sport ever invented.

Just because you like watching golf and pretend to enjoy Indy racing doesn't give you license to attack women's basketball, the most noble of all sports.

Another image which has stayed in my head is the front cover of the video game I am so obsessed with, ESPN NBA 2K5. I love the game and play it online just about every day, always using the Pacers, and winning due to my savvy coaching skills.

But the cover of the game features Ben Wallace, the chief perpetrator of the tragedy of Nov. 19. Every time I boot up the game, I have to look at Wallace's face.

So I bribed my colleague Jayson Teig to take a picture of Artest in his No. 91 uniform and morph it over Wallace's face and body, sparing me further indignity.

What can we do, other than token protests such as that? I go back to my Nov. 24, 2004, column and urge an armed invasion of Michigan.

Between the National Guard, our state police and all the wannabe gangsters and hillbillies in Indiana, we should have enough firepower to take over Michigan, one piece at a time. The border is porous; one can easily gain access to their territory.

It at least makes sense. No Iraqi ever screwed over my basketball team. I've got less beef with them than I do the residents of Detroit, who, in cahoots with the vast right-wing conspiracy, deprived Artest of his livelihood and the citizens of Indiana their basketball team.

If you've ever seen 8 Mile, you know the streets of Detroit are tough. But I've never known Indiana to back away from a good fight. We've already beaten Kentucky into submission and Illinois is scared of us. Michigan should not be a problem.

Meanwhile, the Pacers squad is continuing to win, and with our warriors returning for the playoffs, we actually stand a half-decent chance of knocking off the Heat or the Pistons in the first round.

On that glorious day, even the carpetbagger sportswriters for The Star will come around to our side. The bells of freedom will ring then, and only then.