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Indiana Pacers forward Ron Artest, who's been suspended for the rest of the season following Friday's bench-clearing brawl with Detroit Pistons fans, tells PEOPLE: "I just wish the situation hadn't turned out the way it turned out."
"I hope some of the Detroit fans I was interacting with before the game could come to my defense," says Artest. "(I'd) just like people to know how much I appreciate fans. You know, you've got fans, and 99.9 percent of them are great – 0.1 percent are jerks."
Artest's comments come just a day after NBA commissioner David Stern handed out a 73-game suspension for Artest – along with multiple-game suspensions for three other players – when a fight broke out in the final seconds of the game in Auburn Hills, Mich. The incident was sparked when Artest, 25, fouled Detroit's Ben Wallace with less than a minute to go in the game. An angry Wallace shoved Artest and benches cleared before Artest waded into the stands after he was hit with a beverage-filled plastic cup.
Others suspended in the brawl included Pacers Stephen Jackson and Jermaine O'Neal, for 30 and 25 games respectively, Anthony Johnson for five games, and four other team members who each received a one-game suspension. The Pistons' Wallace also will be sitting out for six games. All the suspensions are without pay.
Asked how he explained the situation to his children, Artest says: "They don't really know what happened."
Meanwhile, Artest is promoting his record label, Truwarier, and said that with his other career endeavors he's "trying to change my life … trying to make it more positive. Having a record company and putting out my own (CD). There's clothes and shoes. There's also an upcoming book deal that I'm trying to do. I'm trying to be positive. I'm a big fan of the Nobel Peace Prize."