New York Antonio Davis has never been one to cause trouble until he thought his wife was in danger.
When Davis responded by climbing into the stands, he did more than jump across the scorer's table: He crossed a line the NBA won't tolerate, no matter the reason.
Especially after the brawl in Detroit.
Davis was suspended five games by the league Thursday for entering the stands during a game in Chicago to confront a fan he thought was harassing his wife.
Though everyone from fellow players to the man who handed down the punishment thought Davis was justified in his concern for his wife, the league made it clear it just can't allow that kind of action after what happened in Detroit in November 2004.
"Certainly the message was very clear after the Nov. 19 incident in that it was clear to our players that they were not to enter the stands under any circumstances," NBA vice president of basketball operations Stu Jackson said. "Certainly this suspension is evident to the fact that we're very serious about that declaration. We realize there were some mitigating circumstances and we did in fact take that into account."
Jackson said those circumstances cut what would've been a penalty of "double-digit games" in half.
But those circumstances remain in dispute.
Davis' statement after the game said the man he thought was threatening his wife, Kendra, was drunk. But that fan, 22-year-old Michael Axelrod, said all he had was a glass of wine at dinner.
Axelrod's attorney, Jay Paul Deratany, said he planned to sue Davis and his wife for more than $1 million. Deratany said he was writing the papers Thursday for a battery suit against Kendra Davis and a slander case against Antonio Davis, and planned to file them Friday.
Axelrod's father, David, is a prominent Democratic political consultant in Chicago who has worked with Sens. Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton and Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley.
Axelrod said the problems were caused by Kendra Davis.
According to Axelrod, he was sitting in the seventh row and booed an official's call. Kendra Davis "came out of her seat. I didn't even pay attention to her. I thought she was just going to the bathroom or something," he said.
Axelrod said Kendra Davis put both hands on his face, and that he motioned for security. He said she later went after another fan.
"I was glad she was done hitting me, but I didn't want her to hit anyone else," Axelrod said.
Saying he didn't think security could react quickly enough the Knicks' top security official was not available at the time, having left the court to escort Maurice Taylor to the locker room after Taylor was ejected from the game moments earlier Antonio Davis went into the seats to confront Axelrod.
"When I go to games, I cheer as hard as I can for the Bulls, and I boo as hard as I can for whoever they're playing," Axelrod said. "I don't feel comfortable if players are allowed to easily jump into the crowd whenever they feel like it's necessary."
The NBA certainly doesn't want it either, not after all the bad press its players got after Indiana's Ron Artest and Stephen Jackson rushed into the stands at the Palace of Auburn Hills.
"It brings to light the danger when a player enters the spectator stands," Stu Jackson said. "At that point, we lose control of the situation and anything could have happened."
Fortunately for all parties, Davis seemed to remain calm though Axelrod said he used obscenities. Davis has a strong reputation: He is the president of the players' association, was given the Sears Community Service Award for philanthropic efforts for the 1999-00 season, and purchases 32 tickets for each home game for different community groups that may not otherwise have the opportunity to attend games.
"He's obviously concerned about his public perception, concerned with how people perceive and evaluate him," union director Billy Hunter said. "Antonio is a pretty level guy. He's very respectful, very disciplined and extremely close to his family, his wife and children. I can't say anything but positive things about him. And I think he's highly respected around the league."
Davis started his suspension Thursday night in a 105-79 loss to the Pistons, and Hunter said he will lose nearly $700,000 in salary. Davis is allowed to practice with the Knicks, but can't appear at the arena during games.
Hunter said he thought a fine would have been enough, or at most a two-game ban. He said the union will appeal the decision to commissioner David Stern, and was one of the many people at Madison Square Garden who thought Davis' actions were understandable considering what he thought was happening.
"I could understand the league's point of view, but I'd like to put Stu Jackson or David Stern or one of those guys in that situation and see how they would have reacted," Knicks coach Larry Brown said. "I'm amazed at the restraint he had."
Brown was Detroit's coach the night of the brawl, and said there was no comparison between the events. Former Pacers star Reggie Miller and Pistons center Ben Wallace said the same, and none could blame Davis for what he did.
"I think the manner in which he hit the stands is totally different from what went on last year," Wallace said. "We have played together in the World Games a couple of times. I had a chance to meet him and his family. I know what type of person he is and the way he carries himself.
"I know if it happened again tonight and he was playing, he would do the same thing. You got to protect your family."