I still remember exactly where I was when it all went down. It was freshmen year and I was in my dorm room at Central Michigan University. Underage drinking was probably involved. Then the phone rings. I can’t recall who exactly was on the other end, but they told me I needed to go to the TV immediately and turn on the Pistons game.
When we found the appropriate channel, it was clear that there was something big going down. Players were in the stands at the Palace of Auburn Hills fighting fans. Fans were on the court getting annihilated by players. By the time we were tuned in, all hell had broken loose. It later became known as “Malice at the Palace” and it was NBA pandemonium unlike anything the world had never witnessed. Let’s take a minute to remember an event that the league would rather forget.
The Malice at the Palace featured a Detroit Pistons team that was in the midst of a pretty heated rivalry with the Indiana Pacers. The date was November 19, 2004 and it was the first time that the two teams had met since the Eastern Conference Finals the previous season, when the Pistons defeated the Pacers in six games en route to their first NBA Championship since the ‘Bad Boys’ were a thing. These teams were familiar with each other and there wasn’t a lot of love lost there. Both played the game hard and psychical, and in a manner that lent itself to frustrating the opposition. The Pistons were down big in the game and it was all but over. Yet for some reason, the starters were still on the court, even within the last minute. That would prove to be a very bad idea.
The Pacers were up 97-82 with 45.9 seconds left in the game. Ben Wallace was fouled hard from behind by Ron Artest (now known as Metta World Peace), who slapped Wallace across the back of the head on his way to the basket. There’s no reason that the faces of each franchise should be on the court still in a game that is so far out of hand, but they were. Big Ben, in all his glory, retaliated by shoving Artest in the face with both hands.
The result was a bit of fray in the middle of the court as the two players got in each other’s faces and the rest of the players tried to separate them. No big deal right? This kind of thing happens all the time in sports and it’s usually over as soon as it begins. But this time Artest went over to the scorer’s table, laid down and put on a headset in order to talk to some radio folks. Those same radio folks later said that the headset wasn’t live because they knew Artest and that would be crazy to let him on the airwaves when he was all wound up like that.
Anyways, all of this went on for a few minutes and the refs were getting ready to eject players who wouldn’t calm down. Wallace threw a towel at Artest, causing him to stand up briefly before returning to his more relaxed position on the scorer’s table. Then it happened. Some moron named John Green threw a Diet Coke at Ron Artest, hitting in him the chest. Instead of calling on the security to escort the man out like an adult and professional, this maniac ran into the stands and set off perhaps the greatest (or worst, depending how you look at it) brawl in sports’ history.
As Artest ran into the stands and attempted to seek out the fan who had thrown the offending sugary soft drink, he grabbed the person he believed to be responsible. Of course, it turned out to be the wrong person but that didn’t really matter at that point because all hell had broken loose. Artest didn’t actually throw a punch at this point but was grappling with the same person as another fan threw another drink in his face. That’s when Stephen Jackson, who had unwisely followed Artest in the stands, laid that fan out and then shit really got out of hand.
Players and fans were trying to hold Pacers players back as other, less intelligent fans were punching Pacers players. A couple of morons actually went down onto the court where they were swiftly dispatched by members of the Pacers. Like these two idiots seen below who decided it was a good day to get thier faces re-arranged by multiple NBA players.
It was utter chaos as security, team officials and broadcast professionals all tried to break the brawl up. There was no precedent for anything like this ever happening in pro sports and people were lost as they tried to defuse the situation. Eventually the Pacers were escorted from the court as drinks and debris rained down on them from the fired up fans.
Once in the locker room, police tried to enter in order to arrest Artest but the other Pacers players got him onto the team bus and refused to let the police enter. The police decided to safely see the Pacers out of the building and review the game film before bringing up any criminal charges.
In the end, multiple fans were charged with crimes in addition to five members of the Pacers. Ten players were suspended for varying amounts of time, including the rest of the young season for Ron Artest, totaling loss of salary in excess of $11 million. The incident led to a reexamination of the close to the action nature of NBA games. Players around the league expressed concerns for their safety should anything similar ever happen again and the league instituted restrictions on the amount of alcohol that could be sold at games. People who were present describe the moment as terrifying and nothing on that level has been seen since. I would never want something like this to happen again and I don’t condone violence, but you have to admit it’s some must-see TV. Watch the full brawl below and judge for yourself.