In My Opinion

Fowler: Hairston’s rough history continues

sfowler@charlotteobserver.comJuly 7, 2014 

hornets

P.J. Hairston practiced Monday, but did not talk to the media. He issued a statement apologizing to the Hornets and their fans for “creating a distraction.”

ISABELLA BARTOLUCCI — ibartolucci@charlotteobserver.co

What P.J. Hairston did Sunday afternoon – punching a high school basketball player during a pickup game at a Durham YMCA – was outrageous. It was ridiculous. It was dumb.

And the question we must all wonder about this newly minted Charlotte Hornet now is: Was that punch the end of something for Hairston? Or was it just the beginning? He just made himself and the Hornets look very bad. If he’s not going to start making better decisions soon, it will happen again.

Couple that with the loss of Josh McRoberts on Monday to Miami, and it was a terrible 24 hours for the Hornets. Their third-best player just flew the coop in McRoberts, whose passing and unselfishness will be sorely missed. And one of their 2014 first-round draft choices – the one with all the character concerns – just slugged a teenager.

Everybody agrees Hairston threw at least one punch. Beyond that, it is unclear. According to 17-year-old Kentrell Barkley, he was hit twice by Hairston with little to no provocation.

Barkley is a 6-foot-5 mid-major basketball recruit who has been offered scholarships by East Carolina and the Charlotte 49ers, among others. His story is supported by his AAU coach and unofficial guardian, Rick Phillips, who wasn’t at the YMCA during the incident but whose son was.

Because Barkley and the Phillips family are pursuing legal action, Hairston faces a summons for misdemeanor assault and battery, according to the Durham District Attorney’s office. The court date is Aug. 8.

“We don’t have a lawyer,” said Rick Phillips, who said Barkley lives with him and his family most of the time. “We’re not looking for any money. Look, Kentrell’s ticket is already punched. He’s going to have a college scholarship. He doesn’t need any publicity.

“We just think this is something that was wrong and something that should be exposed. Kentrell got hit twice. He never tried to hit P.J. back. I hope people consider that Kentrell doesn’t have any sort of history of off-court problems. P.J. does.”

Yes, P.J. does have a history. Oh boy, does he ever.

Panthers owner Jerry Richardson has a famous chair in his home where he makes the players who have messed up have a seat while he gives them a lecture. Steve Smith was a frequent visitor during the early part of his career.

I don’t know if Hornets owner Michael Jordan has a chair, but he better buy one if he doesn’t. Hairston needs a major “Scared Straight” sitdown, from one Tar Heel to another. Because this can’t keep happening.

Hairston missed last season at North Carolina because of off-court issues. He would have been the Tar Heels’ best player. Instead – after serious eligibility problems, suspicious traffic stops and UNC eventually throwing up its hands and saying it wasn’t going to even apply to the NCAA for his reinstatement – Hairston wound up in the NBA’s development league.

Supposedly, the experience humbled him. Undeniably, he played well. Hairston was drafted No. 26 overall by Miami, traded to Charlotte in a pre-arranged deal and proclaimed: “I’m a changed man.”

Hairston said that nine days before he socked Barkley.

Hairston did say he was sorry Monday in a vague statement the Hornets issued, which read: “I want to apologize to the Hornets organization and our fans for creating this distraction. As this is a legal matter, I cannot comment on the situation any further. I am truly sorry for any embarrassment that I have caused.”

Hairston could have said more than that, of course. But he didn’t. He strode right past 20 media members awaiting his comments after a Hornets summer-league practice Monday around 5:45 p.m. and disappeared down a flight of stairs.

Maybe that was best. If he had taken questions, he would have faced disturbing ones about why his agent has said Hairston and Barkley fought each other but Barkley has said he was punched twice without any retaliation. Or why Hairston would feel compelled to hit anyone in a pickup game in the first place.

A PR agent who has been working with Hairston says he is going into “self-imposed exile” from Durham, where bad things seem to happen to him. But Durham doesn’t have a monopoly on trouble, and that won’t change anything unless Hairston can truly change himself.

Hornets coach Steve Clifford said right after the draft that the team had thoroughly investigated Hairston’s previous problems. “If we weren’t comfortable he can be a dependable, efficient NBA player, we wouldn’t have taken him so high,” Clifford said.

You have to wonder if this had happened just before the draft instead of just afterward if the Hornets would have traded for Hairston at all.

But now they have him, for better or for worse. And they better talk some sense into him. Because while Hairston has an NBA-ready body and an NBA-ready jump shot, there is one part of him that is far from NBA-ready.

His judgment.

Fowler: sfowler@charlotteobserver.com; Twitter: @scott_fowler

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