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On This Date in Sports November 19, 2004: Malice at the Palace

In collaboration with the Sportsecyclopedia.com

In the closing moments of a game at the Palace of Auburn Hills, the Indiana Pacers and Detroit Pistons get into a massive brawl that spills into the seats. The Pacers held a 97-82 lead with 45.9 seconds remaining in the teams’ first meeting since the 2004 Eastern Conference Finals. The remainder of the game would be wiped out as several players were suspended, including Ron Artest for the rest of the season.

The early regular-season game was highly anticipated as it was the first time Central Division rivals met since the playoffs. The Detroit Pistons coached by Larry Brown, won the NBA Championship in 2004, upsetting the Los Angeles Lakers. On the way to the NBA Finals, they beat the Indiana Pacers in the Eastern Conference Finals in six games. The series was an intense physical and defensive battle, with Pistons beating Indiana, spoiling a 61-win season for the Rick Carlisle led Pacers.

The Indiana Pacers spent the entire summer looking for revenge. Heading into their first meeting, the Pacers were off to a strong start at 6-2, while the Pistons were showing signs of a championship hangover at 4-3. Indiana controlled the game from the start, scoring 34 points in the first quarter as they led Pistons 97-82 in Friday Night telecast on ESPN with under a minute to play. It had been a frustrating night for Detroit and Ben Wallace, who, while driving to the basket, was fouled by Ron Artest with 45.9 seconds left in the game. Wallace reacted to the foul by shoving Artest back as both teams came together on the floor in what at first looked like a typical NBA shoving match as the referees attempted to restore order.

Ben Wallace and the Pistons appeared to be the more agitated team as Ron Artest, the game’s leading scorer with 24 points reclined on the scorer’s table. As Artest lay atop the scorer’s table and the rest of the players argued, a cup came flying out of the stands, striking the Pacers’ volatile star. At which point, Artest leaped off the table and into the stands of the Palace at Auburn Hills looking for the fan who tossed the cup. Ron Artest hit one fan who he mistakenly identified as the cup thrower, leading more fans to throw debris as the rest of the Pacers began to take on the fans of Detroit. With the situation turning ugly, the Pistons were ushered into the locker rooms, with chairs, bottles, and other debris being hurled on to the court.

As each moment passed, it was clear that the game officials had lost control, as Ron Artest, Stephen Jackson, and Jermaine O’Neal appeared to be taking on the whole arena, which had begun to dwindle with the Pacers holding an insurmountable lead. After the Pacers were finally sent down to their lockers, it was decided that the final 45.9 seconds would no be played, as local police were needed to restore order, and to escort the Pacers out of the building and off to the airport.

The videos of the incident were reviewed as the brawl became frontpage news, giving the NBA and the Indiana Pacers a black eye. Police reviewed all of the footage and charged the fan who ignited the brawl. The fan would be banned from attending any future event at the Palace of Auburn Hills as his season tickets were revoked. Several other fans, along with five Pacers, were also charged for their participation in the melee.

A total of nine players were suspended by the NBA, including Ron Artest, who was banned for the rest of the season, 73 regular-season games and the playoffs. Stephen Jackson of the Pacers received a 30-game game ban, while Jermaine O’Neal was suspended for 15 games after an appeal reduced it from 25 games. Anthony Johnson received a five-game suspension, and Reggie Miller, who was inactive, was suspended one game for leaving the bench. On the Pistons, Ben Wallace was sat six games, while Chauncey Billups, Derrick Coleman, and Elden Campbell each were sat one game for leaving the bench during the fracas.

The teams would meet again on Christmas in Indiana without incident as the Pistons won 98-93 as the NBA sent out warnings to both teams. When they came back to Detroit on March 25th, the game was delayed due to bomb threats directed at the Pacers. The Pistons would finish the season with a record of 54-28, while Indiana finished 44-38. The teams would meet in the second round, with Detroit again winning the series in six games on the way to reaching the NBA Finals, where they lost to the San Antonio Spurs in seven games.

Ron Artest was unhappy at the Pacers’ lack of support during the suspension and requested a trade the following season, which the team obliged, sending him to the Sacramento Kings. Artest would later end up on the Los Angeles Lakers, changing his name to Meta World Peace. Of note, the head referee in the Malice at the Palace was Tim Donaghy, who would later be named in a bribery scandal and claimed the NBA often attempted to fix results. He would serve 15 months in prison for his actions.