NBA

The Indiana Pacers’ Return to Detroit After Malice at the Palace Might Have Been Scarier Than the Fight

On Nov. 19, 2004, all hell broke loose inside the Palace at Auburn Hills, home of the NBA’s Detroit Pistons. The Pistons were hosting the Indiana Pacers in a regular-season matchup. It was a rematch of the 2003 Eastern Conference Finals that saw the Pistons defeat the Pacers and then go on to defeat the Los Angels Lakers 4-1 in the NBA Finals. The November game was the first meeting since the Eastern Conference Finals and was nationally televised. The whole country wound up seeing a brawl like no other.

The Malice at the Palace

With less than one minute remaining in the game, the visiting Indiana Pacers held a 97-82 lead. Ben Wallace of the Detroit Pistons went in for a layup and was fouled from behind by Ron Artest (the man now known as Metta World Peace). Wallace objected to the foul, shoving Artest in the face. While the referees were trying to control the situation, Artest went over an laid down on the scorers’ table.

Donnie Walsh, President and CEO of the Pacers, later explained why Artest went to the table, saying “Ronnie did try to get away from it because he had been told, ‘If you see yourself getting too excited, disengage and get yourself out of it and get your thoughts together.’ That’s why he went down and laid down on the table. It was so he wouldn’t get all excited and do something wrong.”

After players tried to calm Wallace down, Wallace threw a towel at Artest, who stood up as he was held back by players and coaches. A fan, John Green, threw a drink at Artest, who sprinted into the stands. The Pacers’ play-by-play announcer Mark Boyle was trampled as he tried to hold back Artest. Boyle bled from a gouge on his forehead.

Richard Sullen, a Pistons fan, was near Artest when he punched a fan. Some fans raced down from the upper concourse to fight the Pacers’ forward. The fans unintentionally jumped on Sullen and injured his shoulder. Other fans were throwing punches, rushing the court. Still, others were crying. Ushers were powerless and kept saying, “Oh my god. Oh my god.” Things became so chaotic, Pacers coach Rick Carlisle said he felt like he was fighting for his life.

The aftermath of the brawl

In all, nine players were suspended for a combined 146 games. Immediately after the game, NBA Commissioner David Stern issued a statement, blasting the players involved and calling their actions repulsive and inexcusable.

Artest eventually was suspended for the remainder of the season. Five Indiana Pacers players were charged and five Pistons fans were charged with misdemeanor assault and battery. John Green, who threw his drink at Artest, triggering Artest’s temper and sending him into the stands, was singled out by Oakland County prosecutor David Gorcyca as the instigator.

“In my mind, he single-handedly incited this whole interaction between fans and players, and he probably is the one that’s most culpable,” Gorcyca said, adding, “although the argument can be made that players were equally culpable.”

Artest was charged with assault and battery for knocking over a Pistons fan, Michael Ryan, who Gorcyca said Artest mistakenly believed had thrown the drink. While Artest punched other fans during the fight, his altercation with Ryan was the only one that was not deemed self-defense, Gorcyca said. Clarence Tucker, the lawyer for Artest in Detroit, said his client would plead not guilty.

The Pacers return to Auburn Hills

Indiana Pacers star Reggie Miller, who did not play in that November game in Detroit but was there in street clothes, said the trip back to the Palace at Auburn Hills was extremely scary.

Miller, who was suspended for one game for entering the stands, said the team wasn’t concerned about their safety when leaving the arena that November night, but was very concerned when they returned. In an appearance on the Dan Patrick Show, Miller said there was talk of ‘assassins’ when the Pacers were to come back.

“When we played them again and had to come to the Palace, that’s when the issues of safety [arose], because people were calling in bomb threats,” Miller said. “There were supposed to be hitmen and assassins, it was, like, crazy. We had to stay on the bus – I’m not kidding you – two hours, we couldn’t even go into the Palace the next time we came to play the Pistons because there were so many bomb scares. The police presence was unbelievable.”

The two teams had met in Indiana on Christmas Day and played without incident, but Indiana’s return trip to Detroit in March was delayed 90 minutes due to the bomb scares. Miller blasted NBA Commissioner David Stern for the lack of security after the game.

“The league ought to be ashamed of themselves to let security be as lax as it is around here,” Miller said. “We’re always going to get the brunt of it as players, especially this year for this organization. David Stern has to take a hard look in the mirror every morning when he wakes up on his decision, the way he penalized us and the way he penalized the Pistons.” The Pacers defeated the Pistons 94-81 to end Detroit’s 12-game home win streak.