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Basketball: Mayhem on court

CHESTER JETS and Derby Storm were last night involved in the worst disciplinary incident in English basketball history when the Budweiser League game between them was abandoned after 30 seconds as players from both teams fought on court at the Northgate Arena.

The incident was sparked by a fight between Chester's 6ft 6ins Englishman Shawn Hartley and the visitors' 6ft 4ins English international, Yorick Williams. Players already on court, plus substitutes from the benches, became involved in the brawl, forcing the match officials to abandon the game.

This is the most serious incident in the history of senior competitions run either by the English Basketball Association since 1972 or the Basketball League, which was formed in 1987 and has been sponsored by Budweiser since 1993.

Within 90 minutes of the incident, the League chief executive, Mike Smith, announced there would be a full scale inquiry by the League and the Association,the governing body of the sport.

Coming just one week after the Derby coach, Bob Donewald, and player Rico Alderson were reported to police by Birmingham Bullets fans for their courtside antics, the authorities must wonder what has hit them. Donewald, twice fined already this season for his comments about officials, was due to face a further misconduct charge tomorrow resulting from last week's incident.

Smith did not attempt to minimise the impact of the incident, painfully aware of the damage last night's events could inflict on basketball's image as wholesale family entertainment and to blue chip sponsors such as Budweiser, Sainsbury, Uni-ball and Dairylea.

"This is an extremely serious and sad occurrence for basketball. Nothing like it has happened in the history of the sport, it is terribly disappointing. With the Association, we will hold an inquiry into every aspect surrounding the incident," Smith said. "My information is that after 30 seconds a fight broke out between Williams and Hartley and all the players joined in."

The game officials were the senior international referee Richard Stokes and John Mumford. The International Federation, reacting to similar incidents in continental countries, ruled this season that in addition to expelling any players fighting on court, officials must also expel all players who leave the bench to join in.

Under this directive, Stokes and Mumford clearly had no alternative. Mr Smith added: "They threw everyone out of the game."

The incident overshadowed all of the on-court action at the weekend, in which Thames Valley Tigers produced the most surprising result. The Tigers rediscovered their bite on Saturday night, taking a sizeable chunk out of the healthy lead Sheffield Sharks had enjoyed at the top of the Budweiser League and reopening the door for Manchester Giants.

The 6ft 9in American Jason Siemon scored seven points to spark a 14- 2 Tigers run which gave them an astonishing 95-90 win after Terrell Myers had given Sheffield an 88-81 lead with three minutes to play.