Today marks the 12-year anniversary of “The Malice at the Palace,” a brawl involving both players and fans that erupted during an early-season Detroit Pistons vs. Indiana Pacers game in 2004.
With a total of nine players suspended for 146 games combined, per Sporting News, “The Malice at the Palace” became one of the biggest travesties in NBA history. The events that unfolded at The Palace of Auburn Hills in Detroit drastically changed the landscape of the NBA and the impact of the brawl can still be felt today.
The early-season match-up between the Pistons and Pacers was a rematch of the past year’s Eastern Conference Finals, a series that was fiercely competitive. A familiarity between the two teams, as well as physical play and rosters filled with some of the NBA’s most temperamental players led to the imperfect storm that needs to happen for a multi-player brawl.
With under a minute left in the game, and with the Pacers holding a double-digit lead, Detroit’s Ben Wallace went to the basket for a lay-up and was fouled by Indiana’s Ron Artest. Wallace took exception to Artest’s foul, shoving him backward and causing a scuffle between Pistons and Pacers’ players. After shoving and trash-talk, coaches, and referees began to get the two teams under control, Artest removed himself from the situation by laying on the scorers’ table.
What would have been a mild altercation turned into utter chaos when a fan threw a cup filled with ice at Artest. An incensed Artest charged into the stands searching for the fan who threw the cup, knocking over several fans in the process. The boundary between fans and players was erased as several Pacers players ran into the crowd after Artest in an attempt to protect their teammate. Pistons players also entered the stands in an effort to break things up. Several punches were thrown by players and fans alike. Very slowly the chaos at Auburn Hills moved out of the stands, as Pacers players were escorted to their locker room while being pelted by food and drinks from Pistons fans.
The immediate aftermath of the brawl was Artest being suspended for the rest of the season, along with his Pacers teammates, Stephen Jackson and Jermaine O’Neal, who were suspended for 30 games and 15 games respectively. Artest also gave up $5 million in salary with his suspension. Ben Wallace was suspended six games for his part in the initial brawl, along with fellow Pistons Chauncey Billups, Elden Campbell, and Derrick Coleman, who were each suspended for one game.
In terms of on-court effects felt from the brawl, the Pistons were able to rally behind “The Malice at the Palace” making it to the NBA Finals that same season. With long-term suspensions from key players on their roster, the Pacers were not able to make a deep run in the playoffs in what was assumed to be a season with championship expectations for Indiana.
While the night of November, 19, 2004, lives in infamy for all involved, Artest was impacted in the long-term more than any other player. For many fans, Artest’s career will not be defined by his all-world defense and toughness, but rather the image of him charging madly into the Detroit crowd.
Some of the first changes to the NBA landscape post-brawl came in the way of arena protocol. Alcohol sales were stopped late in games, fan behavior was more closely monitored and arena security was increased, all while keeping the intimacy between players and fans that is unique to the sport of pro basketball.
In the era of the mid-2000s, where the NBA was already struggling with popularity, “The Malice at the Palace” was a turning point for the image of the league. With hopes of changing the perception of NBA players, commissioner David Stern put into effect a dress code that required players to dress business casual while entering an arena. Whether Stern’s dress code had an actual impact on perception or not, the wounds opened from “The Malice at Palace” eventually healed, with the NBA currently wielding more popularity than ever before.
[Featured Image by Duane Burleson, File/AP Images]