Malice at the Palace 15 Years Later

Background

It has been 15 years to the date that the most controversial incident in NBA history took place affectionately known as Malice at the Palace. November 19, 2004 a regular season game between division rivals the Indiana Pacers and the Detroit Pistons at the Palace of Auburn Hills in Detroit, Michigan. This was the first meeting between these two teams since they played each other in the Eastern Conference Finals a series the Pistons won in six games on their way to winning the NBA Finals. It was just the eighth game of the season for the Pistons and the ninth game of the season for the Pacers. The game was rather uninteresting through the first three quarters with the Pacers leading for the majority of the game. However, in the final seconds of the game, things got very interesting for all the wrong reasons.

With 45 seconds left in the game, Pistons center Ben Wallace when up for a dunk where he was fouled by Pacers forward Ron Artest (now known as Metta World Peace). Ben Wallace took exception to the foul by Artest and proceeded to push him. Wallace then went after Artest but his teammates and the Pacers players that were on the court converged to separate them. Now, in today’s NBA, both teams would have been separated and the referees would have reviewed whether the foul committed by Artest was a flagrant one or two or if it was a common foul as well as whether Ben Wallace deserved and the other players involved deserved technical fouls. SPOILER ALERT: that is not even close to what happened. I don’t think anyone in attendance or watching at home could have guessed what insanity was about to happen.

As both teams are separated and cooling off from the skirmish, Ron Artest is hit by a beverage (probably a beer) thrown at him by a fan. Incensed by this, Artest runs in the stands and starts a fight with fans. Though Pacers teammates namely Jermaine O’Neal and Stephen Jackson followed him into the stands to de-escalate the situation, Pistons fans continued to throw drinks on the Pacers players. This led to Jackson and O’Neal to begin to throw punches at fans alongside Artest in the stands. After a few minutes of brawling in the stands, the players are finally able to clear the stands but bafflingly, the incident DID NOT END THERE! As the players clear the stands and make their way back on to the court, somehow fans are able to get on the court and the brawl continues. Ron Artest, Jermaine O’Neal and Stephen Jackson continue to brawl with fans with one of the more replayed moments of the brawl being Jermaine O’Neal running in on the scene throwing a punch at a fan while slipping on liquid on the court. Finally, team and game officials are finally able to get the players off the court before the situation could escalate any further but the damage was already done.

Look me saying what happened does not do the brawl justice. Here are some of the highlights (or lowlights) of the infamous incident:

Aftermath

The punishment for this situation saw multiple players from the Pacers and Pistons receive suspensions and some legal charges against fans and players. Five players for the Indiana Pacers (six players overall) received suspensions of five games or more with Ron Artest receiving the heftiest suspension of any of the players involved as he was suspended for the 73 remaining regular season games in addition to the 13 postseason games the Pacers ended up playing bringing the total to 86 games. Stephen Jackson received a 30 game suspension and Jermaine O’Neal received a 15 game suspension (originally 25 games but was reduced on appeal). Pacers veteran guard Anthony Johnson rounds out the field of players that received a five or more game suspension at five games. Longtime Pacers guard and Hall of Famer Reggie Miller (who was inactive for the game and in his final NBA season) received a one-game suspension. Ben Wallace received a six-game suspension the heaviest suspension of the four Pistons players that received one. Reigning Finals MVP and Pistons point guard Chauncey Billups received a one-game suspension as a result of the incident as well as veteran teammates Derrick Coleman and Elden Campbell.

As far as criminal charges go, five Indiana Pacers players (Ron Artest, Stephen Jackson, Jermaine O’Neal, Anthony Johnson and David Harrison) and five fans (John Ackerman, John Green, Bryant Jackson, William Paulson and David Wallace) received criminal charges and were sentenced to community service and probation as a result. Pistons fan John Green was noted as the fan who threw the cup at Artest that started the brawl in the stands. At the time of the incident, Green was on court-ordered probation at the time for a DUI conviction and had previous convictions for carrying a concealed weapon, felony assault, and three drunk driving convictions. David Wallace, one of the fans that was charged as a result of the incident, is Ben Wallace’s brother.

Being that these two teams were in the same division, they played each other three more times in the regular season with their next matchup coming on Christmas day at Indiana. The next time they played each other at the scene of the crime at the Palace, the game had to be halted for a half an hour because of a bomb threat. Luckily, the situation was sorted out and both teams proceeded with the game. In a bizarre twist of fate, both teams would also meet in the postseason for the second straight season where the Pistons would win the series in six games. The Pistons would go on to advance to their second straight NBA Finals though they were unsuccessful this time around as they were defeated by the San Antonio Spurs in seven games.

The Pistons would appear in the Eastern Conference Finals the next three seasons but would be unable to make it back to the NBA Finals and were able to keep their main core intact until the 2006-2007 season when Ben Wallace signed with the Pistons other division rival Chicago Bulls in free agency. On the other hand, the Indiana Pacers would not have the same success as after they were able to make the playoffs the season following, they went through a four-season drought where they missed the playoffs. The team would undergo major changes in this time period. Although Ron Artest was able to return to the team the next season for a time, he would be traded to the Sacramento Kings midseason. Stephen Jackson was traded to the Golden State Warriors a season after Artest was traded and in the offseason following the 2007-2008 season, Jermaine O’Neal was traded to the Toronto Raptors.

This incident is what made the NBA league office become more strict in order to repair the image of the NBA in the aftermath. This included limiting the amount of alcohol that was allowed to be sold at NBA games, introducing new security guidelines, and later on a new dress code.

Historical Perspective

This is an incident that the NBA had never seen before, has not happened since and more than likely will not happen again. Yes NBA players have fought/brawled with each other before, NBA players have gotten into it with fans before, never before have NBA players gone into the stands and brawled with fans. This was without a doubt the most chaotic incident in NBA history and I could go as far as to say the most chaotic in sports history. Many have debated who was more at fault for the situation Pistons fans or Pacers players namely Ron Artest. I honestly don’t think either party is more to blame than the other as both played significant roles in the escalation of the incident.

Pistons fans were wrong for throwing beverages at the Pacers players and Ron Artest was wrong for being unable to keep his composure and charging into the stands. Pistons fans were wrong, Ron Artest was wrong everyone was wrong. To a lesser degree the coaching staff for both teams should have taken better control of their players, security should have been in place to control the players when the skirmish between Ben Wallace and Ron Artest first happened and to keep fans from being able to escalate the situation any further. We can go on and on debating who was more in the wrong but at the end of the day none of that matters. All that matters is that no one was significantly hurt as a result of the incident, no one received any jail time and the NBA made the necessary changes needed to prevent a situation like this from ever happening again.

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