Pistons all-star center Ben Wallace - whose shove to Artest after a borderline hard foul began the fracas in the waning moments of play Friday - received a six-game suspension.
Four other players - Detroit's Chauncey Billups, Elden Campbell and Derrick Coleman, and Indiana guard Reggie Miller - were suspended for a game apiece. All of the suspensions are without pay.
NBA commissioner David Stern ripped the heart out of one of the league's top contenders for the championship with his decision. "The actions of our players wildly exceeded the self-control that should be expected from NBA players," Stern said in a news conference in New York last night.
Stern said he expressed "shock and revulsion and fear" when he saw replays of the incident. The decision, he said, was unilateral. "It was my decision, and I decided it. I spent the weekend reviewing more tapes and angles and replays than at any time in all my years here combined."
Stern said that the league will also implement new rules for fighting that will defuse situations like Friday's before they escalate. The NBA will also examine fan behavior, he said, and look to "permanently exclude" fans who come onto the floor in the future from attending games.
"We have to make the point that there are boundaries in our games, and the boundary that is immutable is the one that separates our fans from the court," Stern said. "There is a correlating point, and that is that we have to hold our fans accountable for their antisocial behavior as well."
Artest was somewhat apologetic. "First, it's very important to me that people understand that I didn't mean for the situation to turn out like it did," Artest said in a statement.
"It really hurt me to see the children crying on TV and I think about how it could have been my own kids. I also regret and apologize to fans who were upset by what happened. I have always been a huge fan of the NBA and I always will be."
Artest however, didn't totally agree with the suspension. "I have total respect for all the players who play the game, and I respect David Stern but I don't think that he has been fair with me in this situation," Artest said.
"I think people know that I have always tried to interact positively with fans in every arena I've been to. I am deeply sorry for the Pacers, people in the state of Indiana and everywhere else in America and around the world where there are NBA fans who have seen me turn things around in my life these past few years."
In an e-mail, Pistons president Joe Dumars said: "We support the commissioner and the NBA on this matter. It was ugly and unfortunate, and I'm sure that both teams are sorry for this to have happened."
Before last night's game in Miami, 76ers coach Jim O'Brien said: "I think certainly the NBA office has made a statement with the severity of this and made the statement that none of us take an incident like this lightly."
"I'm sick about that for Indiana. I'm devastated for them," Pistons coach Larry Brown said. "And we lost our heart and soul."
Pacers co-owner Herb Simon said he did not condone the fight, but "we do consider the action taken Sunday by the National Basketball Association to be unprecedented and inappropriate based on the circumstances."
Fans have been involved in several incidents during the last few years in many sports. Two fans attacked Kansas City Royals first-base coach Tom Gamboa in a game at Chicago last year. Texas Rangers pitcher Frank Francisco was charged with aggravated battery in September after throwing a chair at a fan and breaking her nose, and Los Angeles Dodgers outfielder Milton Bradley was suspended for five games after throwing a bottle at fans during a game in October.
Artest, whose career has been filled with various suspensions - some from his teams, some from the league - had already caused a stir this season after the Pacers "benched" him for two games. Artest said he went to Indiana coach Rick Carlisle and asked for a leave of absence from the team, in part to promote a CD.
A source said that Artest told Carlisle he wanted to retire, and another said the Pacers made the decision after Artest got into a physical confrontation with teammate O'Neal.
Artest's suspension marked only the second time in league history that a player has been removed from play for more than half of a season. The NBA suspended then-Warriors guard Latrell Sprewell for one year in December 1997 after he choked coach P.J. Carlesimo during a practice. The Warriors had already terminated Sprewell's contract with 68 games remaining. An arbitrator later limited Sprewell's suspension to the 1997-98 regular season.
The Lakers' Kermit Washington was suspended for the final 26 games of the 1977-78 season after punching Rockets forward Rudy Tomjanovich in the face during an altercation. Tomjanovich nearly died from his injuries. Chicago's Dennis Rodman got 11 games in 1997 after kicking a cameraman on the sideline during a game against the Timberwolves, and Houston guard Vernon Maxwell received a 10-game suspension after going into the stands in Portland to confront a heckler in 1995.
Sixers general manager Billy King said there already is a zero-tolerance policy regarding poor behavior by fans. "It'll give us a chance to review and refresh and make sure that everybody understands that," he said.
"I think the majority of the league has responsible players and responsible fans," King said. He said the penalties had to be devastating for the Pacers, who will be without three starters for 25 games, and one for the rest of the season. "Two of them are all-stars," he said, referring to Artest and Jermaine O'Neal.
Indiana's Austin Croshere wasn't very happy. "I don't know what the regulations are for these types of things, but maybe they need to be looked at more closely," he said after the six healthy and eligible Pacers lost to Orlando, 86-83, on Saturday night. "You've seen it in baseball. It's happening more and more."
Billy Hunter, the executive director of the Players Association, criticized the security at the Palace. "It should've never gotten to the level or degree that it did. But it's obvious that there was either a lack of or a sparseness of security, or that in fact people didn't know what their responsibilities were. Add all of that together and I think that calls for a lesser penalty than was imposed on Ron Artest."
This article includes information from staff writer Joe Juliano and Inquirer wire services.
Contact staff writer David Aldridge at 215-854-5516 or firstname.lastname@example.org.