|Monday, October 28
Updated: December 24, 4:47 PM ET
Christie suspended two games for fight
ESPN.com news services
NEW YORK -- Rick Fox was suspended for six games and Doug Christie got a two-game ban for their roles in a bench-clearing fight during a Lakers-Kings exhibition game.
In Monday's surprise ruling, the NBA did not suspend any members of the Kings for leaving the bench during the brawl.
Fox and Christie will miss their teams' season openers Tuesday.
"Six seemed excessive,'' Lakers coach Phil Jackson said, "but they wanted to send a message that this is action they can't have happen.''
The fight broke out two minutes into Friday's game. Fox threw a right-handed elbow at Christie, who had smothered Fox on defense. Fox was called for an offensive foul and then dropped the ball on Christie. The Sacramento guard, who had fallen to the court, got back up and threw the ball back at Fox. Fox's left-handed slap caught Christie in the jaw, and Christie responded by hitting Fox with a left-handed uppercut.
After both were tossed from the game, Fox sprinted off the court, past the Lakers' locker room and waited for Christie to enter the tunnel. Fox then put Christie into a headlock and Christie threw several punches at Fox. Several Sacramento players left the bench area and raced down a tunnel leading to the locker rooms.
Lakers center Shaquille O'Neal was also at the heart of the second scuffle in the tunnel. A strict interpretation of NBA rules would have resulted in at least a one-game suspension for anyone leaving the bench to join an altercation.
"Our rule regarding an automatic suspension for players leaving the bench was not intended to apply in a highly unusual situation like this one, where an altercation occurs in an access tunnel or hallway,'' NBA vice president Stu Jackson said. "In this circumstance, our judgment was that the players who left the bench were attempting to break up the fight and did not escalate the altercation.''
The NBA enforced a much tighter interpretation of the leaving-the-bench rule several years ago when fights broke out during playoff games between the Miami Heat and New York Knicks. In 1998, Chris Mills of the Knicks was suspended for a playoff game after walking just a few steps onto the court during a fight between Alonzo Mourning and Larry Johnson.
In 1997, Johnson, Patrick Ewing, Allan Houston and John Starks were suspended one game apiece for leaving the bench during a fight between P.J. Brown and Charlie Ward. The four suspended Knicks filed suit in federal court to have their suspensions overturned, arguing that they were acting as peacemakers, but a judge dismissed their claim.
Previous suspensions for leaving the bench were made in accordance with an NBA rule that states: "During an altercation, all players not taking part in the game must remain in the immediate vicinity of the bench. Violators will be suspended without pay for a minimum of one game and fined up to $20,000.''
"This is not a new precedent at all,'' Jackson said in a conference call with reporters. "In the end we felt this case was very unusual, a special case.''
Fox and Christie did not receive fines on top of the suspensions but will take hits to their salaries. Fox will be allowed to attend the Lakers' ring ceremony before Tuesday night's home opener against San Antonio but then must leave the building immediately.
"I was glad the commissioner saw fit to understand, not just react,'' Christie said.
Fox loses $289,349 in wages and is not eligible to play for the Lakers until Nov. 8 against Washington. Fox, who expected to receive the harsher penalty after sprinting to the tunnel and waiting for Christie after both had been ejected, joins O'Neal on the sideline for the season's first week. The Lakers were scheduled to place O'Neal on the injured list Monday, meaning he'll have to sit out L.A.'s first five games.
Christie loses $138,889 in salary, and his absence means Sacramento will be without two potential backcourt starters for its first two games. Mike Bibby is expected to miss up to 20 games after undergoing foot surgery in the preseason.
Christie would be eligible to play for the Kings on Saturday at Memphis.
ESPN.com senior NBA writer Marc Stein and The Associated Press contributed to this report.