The flurry of activity inside the television truck parked outside of the Palace of Auburn Hills suddenly intensified, then it stopped.

Share story


The flurry of activity inside the television truck parked outside of the Palace of Auburn Hills suddenly intensified, then it stopped.


The usual chatter between the director of the camera operators and the production crew grew louder, then everything went silent.


“Hey, it’s a fight!” someone shouted inside the truck after Ben Wallace shoved Ron Artest in the chest during the final seconds of the Detroit-Indiana game Nov. 19.


What happened next — a cup of liquid thrown from the stands, an All-Star on a rampage and a melee between fans and players — were perhaps the most frightening moments ever captured on video at a sporting event.


“When the foul happened and Ben reacted with his push, there was a loud noise, it got loud in the truck,” said ESPN producer Ed Feibischoff. “Everybody was concentrating on what was happening on the court.


“Then when Artest went into the crowd, it became silent. It was a hush. It was different. You felt it. Everybody knew this was different. This was not something that you were used to, and I was the only voice that I could hear.


“They were waiting for me to react. We became instantly a news organization as opposed to covering a sporting event. We strapped in and said, ‘Guys, this is now a news story and our job here is to report the news.’ “


Feibischoff studied television communication and journalism at the University of Buffalo and has been in the business for the past 23 years.


Before joining ESPN, he worked 19 years at NBC and produced segments in five Olympics. He covered the Dream Team in 1992, swimming and diving at the 2000 Sydney Games and speedskating in ’02.


Since 1991, the 47-year-old Queens, N.Y., native has worked every NBA Finals and he has produced the past five.


His proudest moment behind the camera, he will say, was eloquently filming Maurice Cheeks when the Portland Trail Blazers coach helped the little girl who forgot the words to the national anthem before a playoff game last season.


“This was on the other end of that extreme,” Feibischoff said. “It was horror. Just disturbing.”


The violent images on the wall of monitors inside the dark truck streamed in from the cameras inside the arena. There was so much noise and confusion. Bodies moving quickly. Objects flying. A flash here. A glimpse there. Someone said they spotted a chair being thrown.


Feibischoff is a sports guy with no real experience in hard news. He’d covered the Ben Johnson steroid scandal, but this was different.


Everything was happening so quickly. ESPN doesn’t have a five-second tape delay like the networks, so there was no time for planning, and suddenly he realized that nothing he’d ever done had prepared him for this moment.


“My direction were simple,” Feibischoff said. “Watch your camera. Watch your machines. Mark down and take your notes. We have to document this from beginning to the end.


“We walked through the replays. We counted off the order, starting with the foul. What happened to get Ron Artest into the crowd? As it was happening live, the best thing to do is stay a little bit wide.”


In Bristol, Conn., Jamie Reynolds, a senior coordinating producer for ESPN, was on the phone with producers in Sacramento, which was the site of the second game of that night’s doubleheader. They would have to wait, he told them.


Reynolds also placed a call to people in the NBA offices in Secaucus, N.J., to make sure they were seeing what he was seeing.


The league’s relationship with the cable network has been solid since they entered into a six-year contract along with TNT that will pay the NBA $3.4 billion. But he wanted them to know that ESPN planned to cover the brawl like a news event.


Meanwhile, the melee raged on in Detroit.


Director Jim Moore, who has been with ESPN for at least 10 years and works college basketball games and Sunday night baseball, instructed his camera operators to ensure their welfare before advancing into harm’s way.


Still, at least one operator was a few feet away from the two men in Pistons jerseys who walked on the court and confronted Artest.


And one cameraman was nearly hit by the chair that was thrown into the crowd, but Feibischoff said no one was injured.


He spoke to Mike Breen, the play-by-play announcer, analyst Bill Walton, and sideline reporter Jim Gray and told them to keep the opinions to a minimum.


“Just gather the facts,” he said. “Don’t jump to conclusions and save the analysis for later.”


For 20 minutes, Feibischoff used all of the technology — the eight camera operators, two robotic cameras and 13 replay machines — at his disposal to capture a video clip that has been replayed more than any other this year.


His footage will be the most important piece of evidence in the upcoming trials against the five fans and five players charged by Oakland County prosecutors with assault and battery. All were misdemeanor charges, except for a felony charge for the alleged chair-thrower.


It will be a case study for years to come on how to cover violence at sporting events, and basketball games will never be the same again.


“I’m not proud about the event, just happy of the job the crew did,” Feibischoff said. “In looking back, we basically gave you almost everything. Nobody missed anything that night. In a sad way, I’m happy to say that. We emptied our bucket. There wasn’t anything we held out.”


Percy Allen: 206-464-2278 or pallen@seattletimes.com