Shaq gets off the hook

BILL HARRIS -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 8:47 AM ET

ORLANDO -- Michigan prosecutors would not have taken kindly to the actions of Shaquille O'Neal on Tuesday.

And this is the same guy who wants to be a sheriff when his NBA career is over?

Watching the role played by the Miami Heat centre in the fracas that led to the ejection of Raptors forward Morris Peterson and the eventual ejection of Raptors coach Sam Mitchell, one could not help but recall last Dec. 8. That's the day prosecutors in Oakland County, Mich., brought legal charges against some fans and players who were involved in the infamous brawl at the Palace of Auburn Hills on Nov. 19 during a game between the Detroit Pistons and the Indiana Pacers.

While some people found the proceedings boring as Oakland County prosecutor David Gorcyca used video footage to explain every legal charge in painstaking detail, the logic exhibited was fascinating.

Yes, a lot of fans were throwing drinks and food at the Pacers after Ron Artest went into the stands. But the fans who got charged were the ones whose actions at critical junctures led directly to escalations of the riot.

"It seemed to be calming down at this point," Gorcyca would say, pointing to the video evidence, "and then this fan threw a drink into this player's face. That action further enraged the player and caused an escalation. So that fan is charged."

Likewise, players were not charged for acts that reasonably were determined to be self-defence. But when punches thrown by certain players were seen to have escalated the riot at key moments, those players were charged. It was all quite reasonable, really.

But now back to Tuesday, where reason took a holiday.

With 3:46 to play in a close game between the Raptors and the Heat, Peterson fouled Dwyane Wade and they got their arms locked up. Macho mentality took over and when neither player wanted to be the first to let go, they menacingly stared each other down, nose-to-nose.

As Peterson and Wade jawed at each other, players from both teams rushed in, predictably. Normally that's when cooler heads start to prevail.

But the most conspicuous presence in the scrum was the 7-foot-1 O'Neal, who muscled his way toward Peterson and offered some choice words. That's what propelled Peterson from anger to rage. Finally the officials had seen enough and threw Peterson out of the game, which sent Mitchell over the edge.

The refs' verdict: Peterson and Wade each was given a technical foul for the stare-down, which made sense. Then Peterson was given a second technical foul for refusing to cease yelling and pointing. Two technicals means an automatic ejection.

Contrary to the Raptors' opinion, we believe Peterson deserved to get tossed. He was a little out of control and he just wouldn't stop.

But let's see here: Wade got a technical foul, Peterson got two ... do you notice who's missing?

It mostly was Shaq's fault that Peterson got so mad. O'Neal barged into a two-man confrontation that otherwise likely would have ended with technical fouls for each player. Peterson and Wade are comparably sized -- Peterson is taller, Wade is wider -- so no one was in any imminent physical danger.

Again, we're not saying Peterson shouldn't have been tossed. But at the very least, O'Neal should have been given a technical foul, too. That might have made things slightly more palatable for Mitchell, who fumed for the next several minutes and then got tossed out himself, in equally explosive fashion.

It's no secret that stars in all leagues get away with more because of their status. After the game O'Neal was crowing about coming to the rescue and suggested the brouhaha served to wake up the sluggish Heat.

"It's hard to conjure up energy for a team like that," Shaq said.

Whatever, sheriff.

Your honour, we submit that Shaquille O'Neal was the most guilty party. Yet the big fella went unpunished.

He's lucky the incident took place in Florida, not Michigan.


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