The darkest night in Indiana Pacers history. A league altering evening. The Malice at the Palace was an unforgettable event.
November 19, 2004, a date that will live infamously in the history of the NBA. An evening that featured a rematch of the 2004 Eastern Conference Finals in the home of the reigning NBA Champions. It was an evening that is not defined by the game that was played, but by the decisions that were made that would alter the history of two of the blue blood Franchises of the NBA – the Detroit Pistons and the Indiana Pacers.
In early 2004, the Indiana Pacers were looking to establish themselves as a juggernaut in the East. This game was an important one. The Pacers, despite being knocked out the previous postseason by the Pistons, had stewed all season knowing the best team in the East resided in Indianapolis, not Detroit.
Rick Carlisle, then-head coach of the Pacers, viewed this matchup as a statement game. He wanted to prove that they were better and stronger, that the road to a repeat would have to go through Indianapolis.
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It was Carlisle’s decision to keep his players fighting in a powder keg when victory was already theirs; they were up 15 points with only 45 seconds left. Both sides wanted to damage the other all in the name of making a statement.
It was Jamaal Tinsley’s decision to remind Ron Artest that there was still time to repay a debt of a hard foul committed in the previous season. There was still time for Artest to get back at Ben Wallace.
It was Artest’s decision to listen, to play with matches, to get even.
After Wallace had gotten to the basket and converted an easy layup, Artest shoved Wallace on his way to the ground. Wallace did not fall, only stumble. He shoved Artest, igniting what should have been a easily ended scuffle. Instead, emotions, held in for an entire summer, began to break.
Players from both teams met in front of the scorer’s table, officials and coaches trying to separate the two teams. Wallace and Artest were straining to get to one another. Indiana Pacers legend Reggie Miller, who began the season on Injured Reserve with a broken finger, guided Artest to the table, having him lay down to mentally cool off.
After a few moments, players began to retreat to their benches, officials had diffused the situation and were attempting to wrap up the game. Artest was on the scorers table, being patted and consoled by Miller. There was still anger in the stadium, but it was under control.
But a man, and more specifically a Pisonts fan, named John Green was still angry. It was his decision to throw a cup, still filled with some liquid, at a calm Artest. It took only a few seconds for the cup to reach Artest, and in a few moments, the brawl began.
Artest, who was calm only moments before, lost it. He jumped off of the scorers table, trampling anyone in his way. He had his sights on Green.
Artest ran up the stands with his eyes locked on the fan while Green still shouted at him. Once Green realized that Artest was not stopping, his anger morphed into surprise and fear right before Artest grabbed his head and threw him to the floor.
What followed were words that have been immortalized with this moment, “Artest is in the stands!”
Immediately, fans grabbed Artest, attempting to hold him back. Artest was splashed in the face with liquid and Steven Jackson, who had followed Artest into the stands, hit another fan.
Indiana Pacers and Detroit Pistons players, at odds moments ago, ran into the stands, trying to get the other members of the game back onto the court.
Fans became involved, throwing bottles, starting fights and running onto the court to confront players. One fan punched Artest from behind while another punched Fred Jones from the rear..
The line between fans and players had not only been crossed, it had been broken, shattered, destroyed. Chaos was ensuing, and it was going to be impossible to stop.
One sentence summed up the anger, the malice, in the building “Ron Artest has a look in his eye that is very scary right now,” said ESPN announcer Mike Breen on the live broadcast.
Once all of the Pacers were back onto the court, the next mission was clear, getting the Pacers away from the fans and into the locker room. One foul had turned into a dangerous situation for the Indiana Pacers. This was more than baskbetball now.
As the Pacers were trying to get into the locker room, they needed to run through a gauntlet of angry Pistons fans. Anyone associated with the team was a target. As players, coaches and officials tried to get into the locker room they were pelted with anything within arm’s reach of the fans. Popcorn, drinks, jackets, all of it became thrown in an attempt to hurt and harm whoever was underneath.
Jermaine O’Neal, being ushered back by security after throwing a running punch at a fan on the floor, had a chair thrown at him.
“What a disgraceful showing from the Pistons fans here. This is one of the worst scenes I have ever seen,” said Breen.
The game was called with 45.9 seconds still to go. The damage had been done.
The fallout was now in the hands of the NBA and Detroit Law Enforcement.
Suspensions were handed down in the next few days. Ron Artest had been suspended for the rest of the season, Stephen Jackson was suspended 30 games, Jermaine O’Neal was initially suspended 25 games, but he appealed and it was reduced to 15 games, Anthony Johnson was suspended five games and Reggie Miller was suspended one game.
Several fans, including Green, received probation, community service and were banned from the Palace of Auburn Hills for life.
While the brawl had ended, the story was not over. In the coming months, Miller would announce his retirement at the end of the season, the Pacers and Pistons would both make the playoffs and would meet in the Eastern Conference Semifinals.
It was Game 6, the Pistons were up 3 games to 2, and had the game well in hand. With Detroit leading 86-79 with 15 seconds left in Conseco Fieldhouse, Carisle subbed out Miller. As Miller walked to the bench to cheers, Larry Brown, who had coached Indiana from 1993-1997, called timeout, allowing time for the city of Indianapolis and the state of Indiana, to say goodbye to the man who had given so much to the Pacers.
The two teams who months beore had been at arms, were now standing together, applauding a legend. Tension and anger, built over a summer and compounded by poor decisions, was undone by one man’s decsion to retire.
While the teams had reconciled, the past, that night could not be erased. It was a night that will forever remain the darkest, ugliest night in the history of the Indiana Pacers. It was a malice at the Palace.