Pacers guard injured at club

By The Associated Press

INDIANAPOLIS – Indiana Pacers guard Stephen Jackson is “happy to be alive,” after being punched in the mouth and hit by a car during a fight at a strip club in which police say he fired a gun in the air.

“I want to apologize to my teammates, to the fans and to this organization,” Jackson said Tuesday after his first practice since the fight early Friday. “It was a very unfortunate incident. I definitely take responsibility for my action and everything I’ve done.”

Team president Larry Bird said he was disappointed, especially because the Pacers are still trying to win their fans back after the brawl with Detroit Pistons fans two years ago. Jackson was suspended 30 games for his part in the brawl.

“This is a tough one, there’s no question about it,” Bird said. “We’re not very happy with what happened, but we’ve got to move on and really concentrate on the season.

“It hurts. You care about this franchise and you’re a part of it, it’s got to hurt.”

Indianapolis police on Tuesday arrested 23-year-old Deon Willford on felony counts of criminal recklessness and leaving the scene of a personal injury accident, and a misdemeanor count of driving without a license for the fight.

Willford drove a car that hit Jackson, sending him tumbling over the hood, said Indianapolis Police spokesman Sgt. Matthew Mount.

Police said Jackson fired a gun in the air in apparent self-defense during the fight.

Jackson has stitches in his lip and other scrapes and bruises.

“I’m definitely blessed to be here today,” he said in his first public comments since the fight. “I didn’t really think I’d be up the next day after I got hit by a car and be walking. But I’m definitely blessed. I’m glad to be on the court. I’m happy to be alive and be able to be with my teammates and my family.”

Jackson could be available to play in the Pacers’ second preseason game against Utah on Saturday.

“He did more today than we expected him to,” Indiana coach Rick Carlisle said. “He actually did some medium contact stuff, and he just insisted on doing it. Fortunately, he didn’t take any hits or anything.”

Carlisle said Jackson was a little bit rusty.

“He’s a little behind conditioning-wise now after missing four days,” Carlisle said.

Besides Jackson, teammates Jamaal Tinsley, Marquis Daniels and Jimmie Hunter were at the club at 3 a.m., police said. Officers said they found a small amount of marijuana in the passenger-side door of point guard Tinsley’s car.

But no arrests were made because there were three others in Tinsley’s car and police could not determine who had the marijuana, authorities said.

Former Pacer star Reggie Miller criticized the players on Monday.

The league’s all-time leader in 3-point goals went on Dan Patrick’s ESPN Radio show and said the actions by the four players were a “punch in the gut” to team CEO Donnie Walsh and Bird.

Bird said Tuesday he had no response to Miller’s comments. Tinsley said he’d rather focus on preparing for Wednesday’s preseason opener against New Jersey.

“Everybody’s going to have their own opinion,” Tinsley said. “We’re just going to go out there and play basketball and stay together and hopefully, win a lot of games.”

Miller also criticized Carlisle, saying his training camp hasn’t been difficult enough if the players have enough energy to be partying at 3 a.m.

Carlisle said Bird addressed the players before practice and told them he and Walsh were proud of their effort and intensity during training camp.

“I have unbelievable respect for Reggie Miller, both as a player and a person, and consider him a friend,” Carlisle said. “He’s obviously earned the right to have an opinion. From a basketball standpoint, we’re doing everything possible to develop this team to be the best it can be.”