That brawl on Friday was quite a mouthful. Now that I've digested it, I think I have a take, seasoned by the reasoned opinions of others.
First off, ESPN's Tim Keown has the goods on the motivation of the brawl. Just as loyalty to a gang unit is a mockery of the loyalty of family members (or fellow soldiers in a platoon), so is rampant ego a mockery of self-respect. There are other ways to stand up for yourself than to strike out indiscriminately.
Second, some good stuff on National Review Online on a self-regulating society. (Start here and scroll down; then check this article.) One thing that I hadn't seen mentioned (at least as recently as 1:00 EST) is that the first step to regulating society is to police one's own behavior. I'd have been furious to be doused with someone's warm, tasteless beer. It's just short of someone spitting at you. But I wouldn't have been lying on the scorer's table either. For that matter, I don't think I'd have hammered Big Ben Wallace like that, and then retreated behind a wall of teammates to lounge out. And you don't go into the stands. Ever. (And, in direct corellation, fans don't go onto the court. Ever. The worst sports fight I ever saw firsthand was at our roller hockey rink, started by a previously-ejected player rushing the court. Predictably, nearly everyone rushed after him, only half of those actually players. The end result was a double-forfiet and a permanent suspension for the instigator.)
Third - no mention at all of what ought to happen to Detroit. My initial reaction, seeing the brawl and not the game itself, was that the game should have been forfieted to Indiana. Of course, there was only one minute left, and Indiana already had a comfortable lead, so moot point; but there still ought to be a sanction. The most fitting punishment that occurs to me is that Detroit ought to be banned from television appearances for the remainder of the regular season.
The league will obviously never do this. Detroit is the defending champion of the NBA. They make money for the broadcasters and the league (which means that every team has a stake in this). I say, all the better - it means the punishment has teeth. The league and its teams will take a hit short-term, in the wallet. The broadcasters and the Detroit Pistons take much the larger hit - and that will force changes in how teams approach security and fan relations. Better than that, it will show the league is serious about its image and about a safe and enjoyable experience for fans and their families, as well as the players' ultimate safety.
It was bad enough that the brawl happened on the court; the Detroit organization's failure to rein in the fans turned it into a mainstream news story. Even after the first beer sailed and the players were pulled back onto the court - how on earth do you let the fans follow them out there? How do you allow all the fans lining the tunnel to the locker rooms shower the exiting Indiana Pacers will all manner of debris?
Besides, discipline, even painful in the short-term, can have long-term gain. The NCAA tends to get this wrong, which is why this story is as surprising as it is inspirational. Paging David Stern...