Basketball: Brawls in USA give cause for concern

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If it is true that what happens in America is generally re-enacted here a few years later, we will do well to fight off absolute despair.

If it is true that what happens in America is generally re-enacted here a few years later, we will do well to fight off absolute despair.

Within 24 hours of the disgusting free-for-all involving players and fans at the Detroit Pistons-Indiana Pacers basketball game, American television was flooded with pictures of a mass fight between the college gridiron players of Clemson and South Carolina.

The consensus now, believe it or not, is that discipline in professional sport is at a point of utter breakdown, a conclusion that could be most powerfully drawn by the background of the prime mover of the mayhem in Detroit, the Pacers' Ron Artest.

Artest is no mere short-fused bruiser. In fact, he is the reigning defensive player of the year in the National Basketball Association. However, he has a disciplinary record that makes young Alan Smith look like a candidate for sainthood.

A serial fouler and fighter on the court who once smashed a television camera in the pique of defeat, Artest is most notorious for demanding that his club give him a month's leave at the start of the season. A compassionate break, perhaps? No, he wanted time to promote his debut rap album. He said at the time: "Just because I want some free time, it doesn't make me crazy." One newspaper responded with a picture of Artest and the headline: "Is this the scariest man in the NBA?" In his entire riot of a career Artest has missed just 12 games through suspension.

As to that headlined question, apparently not. Many more sportsmen go further than Artest. Recent statistics suggest that as many as 40 per cent of major league sportsmen in the US have some kind of criminal record, mostly for drug use, driving offences and violence, some of it sexual.

The mean wage of course soars above several million dollars a year. Shaquille O'Neal recently abused the owner of the Los Angles Lakers, Jerry Buss, for not attending to his contract promptly. He did this from the court in full view and hearing of the nation. His salary at the time was around $26m.

Perhaps the Football Association, when it has adjusted a little the weight of its condemnation of racist Spanish fans in the light of the Dwight Yorke affair and the reality that the problem still lurks in England, might want to take note of events in America. It should know by now the force of the wind that blows across the pond.

Here is an eavesdropped conversation heard last weekend. "It was interesting to read one view of the Olympic bids of Paris and London, that Paris is beautiful, rude, grotesquely expensive, but that it works." "And the view of London?" "That it is rather less beautiful, rude, grotesquely expensive, and doesn't work..." You might imagine that this exchange happened between two sneering Anglophobes on the terrace of the Café Deux Magots.

No, it came in the rain and in a long queue at Twickenham station that was reminiscent more than anything of the cattle stockyards of Chicago. The dialogue was between two English rugby fans and it came several hours after their team's thrilling victory over South Africa. Both live in Sussex. They were hoping to get home by midnight.