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Malice At The Palace: The Inside Story

Malice At The Palace: The Inside Story

The date was May 31, 2004. The Detroit Pistons played the Indiana Pacers in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Finals.

The Pistons, who won 54 regular-season games, led the top-seeded Pacers, who won a franchise-record 61, 3-2 in the series.

This series was a hard-fought defensive juggernaut. In the first five games, both teams combined to average 150.6 points per game.

Game 6 wouldn't be any different. After three quarters the Pacers lead the Pistons 50-46.

Both teams continued to battle in the fourth, with the Pacers keeping their lead. The Pacers led all but 3 minutes and 57 seconds of the game until the 3:57 mark.

With the game now tied at 59, Ron Artest of the Pacers shoved his forearm into Pistons guard Richard “RIP” Hamilton.

Artest's foul was ruled a flagrant foul, which sent Hamilton to the free-throw line. He made them both.

The Pistons would get the ball back after the foul. Chauncey Billups would take and miss a jump shot.

Rasheed Wallace would sneak in from the left side and dunk home Chauncey Billups’ missed jumper.

The flagrant foul by Artest sparked the Pistons and they never looked back. The Pistons ended up winning the game 69-65. It was the second-lowest point total in NBA playoff history.

The Pistons won the series 4-2 and they'd go on to face the superteam Los Angeles Lakers.

The Pistons would shock the world and take care of the Lakers easily winning the series 4-1 and the championship.

As the Pistons were celebrating their well-deserved title, the Pacers were struggling to figure out what went wrong in the series.

Many Pacer fans blamed Artest for the Pacers losing the series. His flagrant foul was an easy scapegoat, but the fact was, the Pacers didn't play well offensively.

There was definitely some bad blood between the two teams. Going back to Artest's flagrant foul, he claimed Hamilton hit him in the stomach, and it went unnoticed.

If you go back and watch the play, it appears Artest was hit by Hamilton as he tried to gain position.

“Mine was an accident,” Artest said about the incident. “His was on purpose.”

There's no way to tell if Hamilton's hit was intentional, but by the time they'd meet next season, Artest would be ready.

The date was November 19, 2004. The Pacers started the season hot with a record of 6-2.

The defending champion Pistons on the other hand were struggling to find their rhythm. They came into the game with a 4-3 record.

At the start of the game, it was clear, Ron Artest had revenge on his mind. He took 9 shots in the first quarter, making 6 of them.

Artest scored half of the Pacers first-quarter points with 17. After one-quarter of play, the Pacers led the Pistons, 34-27.

The Pacers would play better as a team in the second quarter, which was good since Artest would only score one point.

The Pacers scored 25 in the second while the Pistons continued to struggle, only scoring 16.

At the half of the rematch, everyone was waiting for, the Pacers held a solid lead, 59-43.

The Pistons finally won a quarter in the third (23-21) but it didn't matter.

The Pacers held tough, nothing the Pistons seemed to do worked. Then, with 45.9 seconds to go, the Pacers held a 97–82 lead.

Many Pistons fans were leaving the arena, trying to beat the traffic home. But not all fans left the arena. There were plenty of the Pistons loyal, waiting for the final buzzer.

What the fans, players, and the league itself wouldn't know, is the final buzzer would never ring on this night.

Ben Wallace went up for a meaningless dunk at this point of the game. Artist, then, fouled Wallace hard from behind.

The foul by Artest was certainly uncalled for. But what Wallace did next was even more uncalled for.

Wallace shoved Artest in the face, which then resulted in both teams shoving and screaming at each other.

Artest laid on the scorer's table, which many people took to be him taunting Wallace. In reality, Artest was practicing a calming technique he learned in therapy called “Take 5”.

Artest laid down and started counting to five, trying to calm his nerves.

As Artest practiced this technique, Wallace threw one of his sweatbands Artest's way.

Artest initially jumped up but he quickly laid back on the scorer's table. Then, something else was thrown his way…

A cup of beer flung out from the stands and landed directly on Artest's face. This set Artest into a rage, which would cost him and the Pacers their season.

Artest immediately jumped into the stands and he charged at the guy, who he believed threw the cup.

It turns out, the guy Artest grabbed ahold of was not the man responsible for throwing the cup.

Pacers guard/forward, Stephen Jackson, rushed into the stands to defend his teammate. He charged after another fan who threw a drink in Artest's face as Artest wrestled with a few fans.

Jackson landed a vicious punch to the fan's face, which had him running for his life.

Then, the fan who actually threw the cup started punching Artest in the head from behind.

More players jumped into the stands, and more fans collapsed on Artest. Ben Wallace's brother, who was in the stands, got into the mix by punching Pacers guard Fred Jones.

Artest eventually got out of the stands and back onto the court. There, he was met by two fans.

Artest punched and knocked down the two fans. As one of the fans was standing up, Jermaine O'Neal punched him. Luckily for the fan, O'Neal slipped and his punch didn't land perfectly.

The court was filled with fans and eventually police officers. One officer pulled his mace out on Artest.

Reggie Miller, who wasn't playing because of an injury, was in a suit. He approached Artest, trying to help him off the court.

The officer with the mace didn't recognize Miller as a player and threatened to mace him as well.

Eventually, Miller helped to lead Artest to the locker room, but not before fans threw anything they could get their hands on at them.

One fan threw a chair toward O'Neal, striking another fan in the process.

It took an entire group of people to hold O'Neal back from going into the stands and eventually he and the entire Pacers team was off the court and in their locker room.

The fighting wasn't quite over as O'Neal charged Artest in the locker room. Both players had to be separated and for now, the trouble for the Pacers was over, until David Stern got involved.


The NBA normally follows certain protocols when it comes to handing out suspensions.

An independent arbitrator is brought in to hear both sides and come to a conclusion. For these suspensions, David Stern acted alone.

The suspensions Stern handed out were as follows:

- Ron Artest was suspended for the remainder of the season.

- Stephen Jackson was suspended for 30 games.

- Jermaine O'Neal was suspended for 25 games.

- Anthony Johnson was suspended for 5 games.

- Ben Wallace was suspended for 6 games.

- Elden Campbell and Derrick Coleman and Chauncey Billups were suspended for one game for leaving the bench during the on-court altercation.

- Reggie Miller was suspended for one game for leaving the bench during the on-court altercation.

A reporter asked Stern about Artest's suspension:

“Can you discuss how the decision came about to suspend Ron Artest for the entire season? Was that unanimous? And can you discuss why?”

Stern responded by simply saying:

“It was unanimous: 1-0.”

After the dust settled, players like Jermaine O'Neal fought to get his sentence reduced.

O'Neal was the only one to get lucky. An arbitrator reduced his suspension to 15 games.

“It's a big relief,” O'Neal said. “It's an unfortunate situation, one that's over with. There's really no vindication. It's a lose-lose situation. Did I think this altercation warranted a penalty? Yeah. I welcome it with open hands, but excessive suspensions are something we are concerned about.”

Sometime after the brawl, Reggie Miller made it known that this would be his last year in the NBA. This put the pressure on the other players to help give Miller one last shot at a championship.

The Pacers finished the season with a record of 44-38. This put the Pacers in the 6th seed in the Eastern Conference.

The Pistons on the other hand finished with a 54-28 record, which put them at the 2nd seed in the Eastern Conference.

The Pacers would beat the Boston Celtics, 4-3 in the first round. The Pistons took on the Philadelphia 76ers and defeated them 4-1.

Then, in the second round, the Pacers and Pistons would match up, catching everyone's attention.

In the series, the Pacers fought hard, but without Artest, they were no match for the defending champs. The Pistons would win the series 4-2.

Reggie Miller would retire. The Pistons would make the NBA Finals for the second straight year, this time losing to the San Antonio Spurs 4-3.

After the season, David Stern made some big changes to the game. First, he put in a dress code. Then, he started the process of making the game less physical.

The league's game changed to a more offensive style of play with a higher pace, more three's and thanks to the brawl, the lack of hard hits from the defense.

Some say the game's at a better place. But for others, especially older fans, they miss the hard, physical play.

As for the main players involved in the brawl, their careers would go in different directions.

Ron Artest would go on to not only win a championship with Kobe Bryant and the Los Angeles Lakers in the 2009-10 season. Artest also would change his name during the 2011 offseason to Metta World Peace.

Jermaine O'Neal seemed to suffer more than any other player from the brawl. O'Neal finished the 2003-04 season 3rd in MVP voting. He appeared to be on his way to being a superstar.

After the brawl, O'Neal's career went the opposite direction. His role diminished, partly because of injuries, but the negative image of that fight followed him for the remainder of his career.

O'Neal would never win a title, just like Reggie Miller. It's a sad tale for Indiana Pacer fans to see how quickly a team on the verge of a championship could fall so quickly.

The Pistons would not get back to the Finals after the 2004-05 season. The Palace of Auburn Hills where the brawl took place was torn down on July 11, 2020.

The league tried its hardest to forget the brawl, but they also lost the enjoyment of the physical game the NBA once was.

Maybe one day they'll let the defender play hard, physical defense and us old fans can reminisce back to a time before players stormed the stands.


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