On November 19, 2004, the Indiana Pacers visited the Detroit Pistons in a game that would have been unspectacular and forgettable if not for the events that transpired with under one minute left on the clock. The game itself had been a highly-anticipated rematch to the Eastern Conference Finals between the Pacers and the Pistons, but on the court it was a dud as the Pacers jumped out to an early 20-point lead and were still leading by 15 points with 45.9 seconds left in the game.
But unfortunately for the Pistons, the Pacers, and the NBA, those final 45.9 seconds of game time would never have the chance to run out. Instead, the game broke down into a brawl at The Palace of Auburn Hills that has since received the name the ‘Malice at the Palace’.
How the Malice at the Palace unfolded
With less than a minute to go on the clock, Detroit’s Ben Wallace drove to the hoop for a layup attempt and received a hard foul from Indiana’s Ron Artest. Wallace took exception to the foul as the game was already well out of reach with Detroit trailing by 15 points in the closing moments of the contest. Ben Wallace aggressively shoved Artest, leading both teams to get into a shoving match. Some players were shoving while others were trying to keep the peace.
Ron Artest removed himself from the scrum and laid down on the scorer’s table. It was at this point that an angry fan in close proximity to Artest threw a cup of beer and hit him in the chest with it. What transpired next was one of the most shocking scenes in the history of professional sports.
Artest was incensed. He jumped up from his prone position and rushed into the crowd to attack the fan who had thrown the beverage at him. Once Ron Artest reached the fan and tackled him, other fans in the area swarmed the Pacers small forward; some to try to break up the fight, others to partake in it. Ron Artest’s teammate, Stephen Jackson, rushed into the fray in defense of Artest and started attacking the fans that were around him.
Over the next five minutes, all hell broke loose. Players and coaches from both teams rushed into the stands, most of them trying to get their teammates out of the fight. Fans were throwing punches and drinks. Some were running on to the court. As the Pacers eventually evacuated into the visitor’s tunnel, they were pelted with drinks and foreign objects. It was a horrific display.
Heavy suspensions were levied out
NBA Commissioner David Stern suspended Ron Artest, Stephen Jackson, Jermaine O’Neal, and Ben Wallace indefinitely in the aftermath of the incident. After having a chance to review the footage, each player received different sentences.
Ron Artest was suspended for the remainder of the season, which was 73 regular-season games and 13 playoff games for a total salary loss of $4.995 million. Stephen Jackson lost $1.7 million in salary with a 30-game suspension, Jermaine O’Neal lost $4.111 million with a 15-game suspension, and Ben Wallace lost $400,000 with a six-game suspension. Five other players also received short suspensions, resulting in a grand total of 146 games suspended and $11.55 million in lost salary.
Artest, Jackson, O’Neal, and their teammates Anthony Johnson and David Harrison also faced legal consequences for the brawl. They all plead down to one year’s probation, community service, and anger management therapy.
To this day, the effects of the Malice at the Palace are still felt throughout NBA arenas around the league. The “NBA Fan Code of Conduct” was released in 2005 in response to the brawl. It placed severe limits on alcohol consumption, forcing stadiums to enforce a maximum size of 24 ounces on beers and a hard limit of only two alcoholic beverages per purchase. Alcoholic beverages would also stop being sold at the end of the third quarter.
On the league’s end, the Code of Conduct also called for improvements in security, ensuring that every stadium provides multiple security guards on the court to keep the fans and the players separated.
These policies make the NBA arena experience safer for fans and players alike. It’s just a shame it took an incident like the Malice at the Palace to bring them into existence.