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P.J. Hairston apologizes to Hornets, fans for ‘this distraction’

By Rick Bonnell, Tim Stevens and Jonathan Jones
rbonnell@charlotteobserver.com tstevens@newsobserver.com
  • http://media.charlotteobserver.com/smedia/2014/07/07/21/38/CCFbB.Em.138.jpeg|316
    Isabella Bartolucci - ibartolucci@charlotteobserver.co
    P.J. Hairston, left, talks with teammate Michael Kidd-Gilchrist after Hornets practice Monday. Hairston is scheduled to appear in Durham County Court next month on misdemeanor charges of assault and battery after an altercation Sunday.
  • http://media.charlotteobserver.com/smedia/2014/07/07/21/38/1f8D8p.Em.138.jpeg|421
    - KENTRELL BARKLEY
    A photo submitted by Kentrell Barkely shows a welt on his forehead after he was allegedly struck Sunday by P.J. Hairston.
  • http://media.charlotteobserver.com/smedia/2014/07/07/21/38/1s40zz.Em.138.jpeg|469
    Chuck Burton - AP
    New Charlotte Hornets player P.J. Hairston, poses for a photo during a new conference in Charlotte, N.C., Friday, June 27, 2014.
  • http://media.charlotteobserver.com/smedia/2014/07/07/21/38/Z8lPr.Em.138.jpeg|209
    Isabella Bartolucci - ibartolucci@charlotteobserver.co
    Noah Vonleh, PJ Hairston, and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist watch their teammates shoot around after the Charlotte Hornets practice on Monday, July 7, 2014. Charlotte Hornets practice and press conference Monday, July 7, 2014
  • http://media.charlotteobserver.com/smedia/2014/07/07/21/47/1lANMA.Em.138.jpeg|178
    Kelly Creedon - Screenshot from "MRB For Life"
    Kentrell Barkely says he did nothing to provoke a confrontation with P.J. Hairston Sunday at a Durham YMCA. Barkley said, “I didn’t hit him or even throw a punch. I was stunned.”

Charlotte Hornets rookie P.J. Hairston spent Monday meeting new teammates and apologizing to the NBA team’s fans.

Hairston faces a summons for misdemeanor assault and battery following an incident during a Sunday pickup game at a Durham YMCA, according to the Durham District Attorney’s office. His court date is Aug. 8.

Hours after that late-afternoon incident, Hairston was in Charlotte for the opening of practices preparing for the Las Vegas summer league. The Hornets acquired Hairston, a former North Carolina star, in a pre-arranged draft-night trade with the Miami Heat, who selected him 26th.

In a prepared statement released by the Hornets, Hairston said: “I want to apologize to the Hornets organization and our fans for creating this distraction.”

He said because it was a legal matter, he couldn’t comment on the situation further.

“I am truly sorry for any embarrassment that I have caused,” Hairston said in the statement.

Hornets management said it would have no comment on Hairston’s situation until the legal process plays out. A team source said Hairston met with coach Steve Clifford before the mid-afternoon practice.

Earlier Monday, Kentrell Barkley, a 6-foot-5, 190-pound senior at Northern Durham High, said he did nothing to provoke him during the pickup game, but said Hairston punched him twice.

“We had not been arguing or talking or anything,” Barkley said. “We were just playing basketball.”

Barkley said he had responded to a Hairston comment before the alleged first blow.

“We were playing and he said to one of his guys, ‘He can’t go right. He always goes left,’ ” Barkley said. “I said, ‘I just went right.’ That was all I said.

“They inbounded the ball to him and he ran right at me. He made a fist and hit me in the forehead. He went ahead and scored at the other end.

“Then I went up to him and asked him what that was all about. I didn’t cuss him or anything. Then he punched me in the neck. I didn’t hit him or even throw a punch. I was stunned. There had been nothing to provoke it.”

Hairston’s agent, Juan Morrow, told the Observer on Sunday night his client did throw a punch at Barkley. However, Morrow said it was in retaliation and that Barkley swung first at the 6-5, 230-pound Hairston.

“The other guy pushed (Hairston), and he pushed back. Both shoved each other,” Morrow said. At that point the altercation escalated into punches, he said.

“He swung at P.J., and P.J. swung back,” Morrow said, adding “both connected.”

Morrow declined additional comment Monday after the misdemeanor summons became public.

Hairston posted on his twitter account: “Believe none of what you hear and half of what you see. #wisdomfrommymother”

Hairston has decided to stay away from the Triangle area in the future, said Joy Cook, who operates Joy Cook Public Relations Group in Greensboro and works with him.

“It’s unfortunate and we look forward to the fact that P.J.’s in Charlotte right now getting ready to practice with the team and connecting with his colleagues,” Cook said. “He regrets and hates the situation happened, but it’s still important for him to still feel connected to the (Triangle) community, that’s why he was even there in the first place.

“He’s really passionate and in the future he really wants to work with young guys. But he has put himself in a self-imposed exile from Durham because he does understand, and like he’s said before publicly, that by giving him an opportunity he’s ready for his new beginning. So that’s what he’s focused on.”

Under the rookie pay scale, Hairston’s contract would pay about $2 million total over the first two seasons, after which the Hornets would have two one-season options to keep him.

Hairston left practice without speaking with reporters. Associate head coach Patrick Ewing, who will coach the Hornets in Las Vegas starting Friday, said Hairston would have a big role in summer league, since the roster doesn’t have many scorers.

Troubling trend

Over the past year, Hairston has had various off-court issues, some of which cost him his NCAA eligibility at North Carolina and forced him into the NBA Development League.

All that factored into him lasting until late in the first round of the draft. When asked if his background and character were thoroughly vetted, general manager Rich Cho said the Hornets did their homework.

“We talked to P.J. in Chicago (at the draft combine) and also had him in for two workouts. We did quite a bit of background on him. At the end of the day we felt comfortable,” Cho said the day after the draft.

Hairston was arrested in a traffic stop in Durham last summer. He was arrested for marijuana possession (the charge was later dropped), and a handgun was found near the car he was in.

He was suspended from North Carolina’s team after an NCAA investigation into his use of rental vehicles tied to convicted felon and party promoter Haydn “Fats” Thomas.

Hairston also was cited in May and June 2013 while he was driving vehicles linked to Thomas.

Cook, the public relations agent, said, “P.J. is a young man who’s trying to navigate certain processes and has cut all ties with former friends and people he’s been around. He’s really excited with playing with his teammates in Charlotte.

“He’s so proud to be a member of the Hornets. Being mentored by some of those older guys on the team is going to be a good thing for him.”

Sentence possibly 60 days

Samuel L. Bridges, a Raleigh attorney, said a conviction for misdemeanor assault and battery could have a sentence of up to 60 days in jail. A conviction would also likely result in some sort of NBA suspension.

Forrest Perry, executive director of the Durham YMCA, said in order to respect the privacy of the individuals involved in the situation, the YMCA would not comment.

Barkley said many high school players, and occasionally some college players, go to the YMCA on Sunday afternoons to play.

“It is a great place to get in a run and play a little ball,” he said.

Barkley was a key member of a Northern Durham team that finished 26-2. The Knights reached the third round of the N.C. High School Athletic Association 4A playoffs before losing to eventual state champion Apex 64-63 on a last-second shot.

Barkley received a scholarship offer from East Carolina last Wednesday and has other Division I scholarship offers.

“Somebody said I did this for publicity, but I didn’t do anything, and I don’t need this type of attention,” he said.

Barkley plays with the Team Loaded club team during the summer. He said he will leave this week and will be gone for the next 20 days to play in tournaments in South Carolina, Wisconsin and Nevada.

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