Unruly Fans Could Change Professional Basketball

NBA commissioner David Stern's suspensions of nine basketball players -- after Friday night's brawl between the Indiana Pacers and the Detroit Pistons at the Palace of Auburn Hills -- were the toughest-ever punishments for arguably the league's worst-ever brawl. The move was today widely praised by sportswriters.

"David Stern was basically telling everyone, players and fans alike, this will not be tolerated. An incident like this will not be tolerated again," said Michael Wilbon, sports columnist for The Washington Post.

Longtime observers of the sport say there's more to be done, however, such as curtailing beer sales -- a move that could anger major sponsors.

"That's really the next step for the NBA," said USA Today sports columnist Christine Brennan. "Will they look at beer sales? Will they crack down? Basically, will they bite the hand that feeds them?"

There are also calls to rein in unruly fans, who get to sit closer to the action than in any other sport, but whose catcalling has become increasingly venomous.

"I'm not saying Ron Artest was right for going into the stands," said former NBA star and TNT basketball analyst Charles Barkley, "but we are not animals in the zoo because we make a lot of money. You can't throw things at us. Anyone who thinks that is stupid."

The heightened heckling signals a real change in the world of basketball.

Said Wilbon: "The NBA used to be -- and I say 'used' to be -- the most fan-friendly league of all, going back to the early '80s at the time when Magic Johnson and Larry Bird really changed the league for the better."

But today's NBA stars have increasingly moved from the sports page to the crime blotter. Critics say many players are overpaid, underperforming, overly coddled, and immature: the perfect recipe for Friday's melee.

"I think that some of them come from backgrounds where, you know, street fighting has been part of the way in which they grew up -- particularly if they're dissed, that is disrespected," said Dr. Alvin Poussaint, a Harvard Medical School psychiatrist.

While Stern's tough first step has been largely lauded, many sportswriters say if more is not done, the league risks losing future generations of fans.

ABC News' Dan Harris filed this report for World News Tonight.

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