Image via Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports
Chris Copeland—undrafted and unknown Chris Copeland, the kid from East Orange who grew up with only a brother for a basketball coach, until a drunk driver took him, too—watched the return of Paul George on Sunday from the Indiana Pacers' bench. This Chris Copeland had to kick around Europe's sticks and domestic d-leagues for six years until, in a mad rush of luck and labor, he bounced his way into a tenuous contract with the Knicks in 2012.
That Chris Copeland had a rookie year which may have been a fluke or which may have shown the type of subdued promise front offices love to lowball, but it was an inarguably surprising to see him find his groove as a downtown sharpshooter after those years in the wilderness. That small forward parlayed that season into an honest, money-on-the-table deal with the Pacers—and now it's two years later, and he is not producing. After a while, he is not playing, either.
So if it's now late Tuesday night in Manhattan in spring and you're not Paul George, and the most action you'll see tomorrow is the 11 a.m. shootaround as a benchwarmer for a crucial game against the Knicks, where victory will put the Pacers one win from a playoff berth, and you've only been in the club about 15 minutes before stepping outside in time for a 22-year-old discharged soldier to scrape the lining of your chest cavity with a butterfly knife—if that is you, then you don't really owe an apology to anyone.But apologize Chris Copeland did, "to everyone, particularly the NBA and the Pacers for my bad choice at being out at that time."
There are bad choices, and then there is bad luck. The circumstances of Chris Copeland's stabbing outside 1 OAK, a nightclub which describes itself as "the embodiment of sophistication, solicitous service, and egalitarian spirit," are still murky. What is known is that Copeland, while talking outside the nightclub with his former girlfriend, Katrine Saltara, was approached by a stranger. This was Shevoy Bleary-Murdock, who, after an argument, stabbed Copeland, Saltara, and his own girlfriend, who was frantically trying to intervene.
Blood smears coated the sports cars parked in front of the club hours after the incident, the sidewalk littered with the plastic wrappers of compresses and bandages. Video footage of a frantic Saltara, tending to a dazed Copeland, places the fracas right next door to 1 OAK—yet the nightclub claims "the incident occurred beyond the view of our security," presumably the bouncers who are always outside to irritate Yelp reviewers. "We were attacked out of nowhere by a fucking black civilian," screams Saltara. "We have nothing to say. We are scared for our lives."As the Daily Beast's Robert Silverman recounts, there was a time when such violent encounters were not so unknown to NBA players. But the circumstances of the near simultaneous arrest of two Atlanta Hawks players by NYPD officers, and the fracturing of Atlanta forward Thabo Sefolosha's leg in a tussle with police, are even stranger. Sefolosha and his teammate, Pero Antić, had only been in New York City for a few hours, following the Hawks' demolition of the Suns earlier that night in Atlanta. Holding court at a VIP table inside 1 OAK, and celebrating ahead of their game against the Nets on Wednesday, the pair received bottle service much of the night, socializing in the packed nightclub. This much, all parties can agree on. Yet hours later, after Copeland's stabbing, Sefolosha would be filmed on the street, being forcibly rushed and handcuffed by a half dozen cops, while a shackled Antić glumly watches, sitting on the sidewalk, his hands behind his back.
What happened in the intervening hours?According to the relevant police report, as recorded by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution:"Officers six times asked Antic and Sefolosha to clear the area to establish a crime scene before they were arrested. The report states the two moved a couple of feet away but did not clear the area. According to the report, Sefolosha then charged officers in an 'aggressive manner.' Police officer Johnpaul Giancona wrote: 'When I approached the defendant to place him under arrest for the above described conduct, I observed the defendant flail his arms, twist his body, kick his legs, and struggle against me making it difficult for me to place handcuffs on him and complete the arrest. It took four officers to place the defendant in handcuffs.'"
There is a discrepancy here; as documentarian Errol Morris wrote of the recent, horrific footage of the murder of Walter Scott at the hands of a South Carolina police officer, "Photography doesn't offer proof of anything. It merely supplies additional evidence, which otherwise might not be available. The evidence here is crucial because it is in conflict with the police officer's own story."In this case, the video footage of Sefolosha being manhandled by the police shows the fracas occurring not "a couple of feet" away from the scene of the crime, next door to 1 OAK—which other footage appears to confirm as the site of the stabbing—but at the intersection of West 17th St and 10th Ave, with Urban Theater, the High Line park, and the glass doors of the corner building clearly in view. This is down the street and well away from the scene of the crime; if that is not "clearing the area," it's worth asking what would be.What happened here? A plausible alternative to the police claim that two prominent NBA players would disobey police orders to the point of physical combat on the eve of a top seeded playoff run is, as journalist Jared Zwerling was informed by a source close to Copeland, that the "Hawks players were shielding [Copeland] from those crowding/taking photos." The likelihood of this professional courtesy seems overwhelming, as does the possibility that Antić and Sefolosha would persist longer than the police wanted. As does the prospect of the police doing much more than they needed to do about it.Can the New York Police Department, of "Stop & Frisk" and "mosque crawler" fame, honestly say they have earned the benefit of the doubt from the public? Both Antić and Sefolosha categorically deny the charges against them; can the police honestly claim that the arrest of both players and the season-ending physical assault on Sefolosha were an inescapable, unavoidable outcome, which needed to be undertaken to preserve the integrity of a crime scene?And maybe that's the rawest deal of all, for Chris Copeland, to be stuck in that particular purgatory—to not be the starter, but to still be a man whose stabbing is the stuff the yellow press dreams about, so long as there's video. An apology is almost certainly owed somewhere in here, but not from the small forward with the big jump shot on the Indiana Pacers bench.