P.J. Hairston: I want to apologize to Hornets, fans

tstevens@newsobserver.com rbonnell@charlotteobserver.comJuly 7, 2014 

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

Hairston was in Charlotte on Monday to practice with the Hornets as they prepare for the NBA Summer League.

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

He said that 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.

Hairston was not arrested.

On Monday, Kentrell Barkley, a 6-foot-5, 195-pound senior at Northern Durham High, said he did nothing to provoke P.J. Hairston during a pickup basketball game Sunday, but Barkley said Hairston punched him twice. Hairston’s agent said it was Barkley who threw the first punch.

“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, said his client did throw a punch at Barkley. However, Morrow said it was in retaliation and that Barkley swung first at the 6-foot-6, 230-pound Hairston.

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

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

Hairston was in Charlotte on Monday practicing with his teammates and has decided to stay away from the Triangle area in the future, said Joy Cook, who operates Joy Cook Public Relations Group in Greensboro.

“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.”

The Hornets issued a brief statement Sunday night, saying they are aware Hairston was involved in an incident and are gathering further information. Monday, the Hornets said they are aware of the incident and would have no further comment until the legal process plays out.

The Hornets chose Hairston 26th overall June 26 in a prearranged trade with the Miami Heat. 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. When asked if Hairston’s background and character were thoroughly vetted, coach Steve Clifford said the Hornets did their homework.

“There are concerns always when there have been things in the past,” Clifford said the day after the draft. “But we did a ton of intel on all of these guys. Not one guy making one call.

“If we weren’t comfortable he can be a dependable, efficient NBA player, we wouldn’t have taken him so high.”

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 had been suspended from the University of North Carolina basketball 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.

Barkley said the Durham City police were called Sunday, but Hairston had left before the officers arrived.

Sunday night, Barkley posted on his twitter account, “I want to make this clear, I DID NOT HIT PJ OR THROW ANY PUNCHES!”

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

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.

Forrest Perry, the executive director of the Durham YMCA, said 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 University 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 basketball 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.

Hairston, who grew up in Greensboro, has repeatedly said he has learned from past transgressions and is ready for the responsibilities that come with being an NBA player.

“There was nobody else to blame. I put myself in that situation and I had to pay the consequences,” Hairston told the Observer the day after the draft. “It was up to me to turn it all around – that I was able to overcome what’s happened in the last 12 months.”

Cook, the public relations agent working with Hairston, 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.”

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