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The historic NBA brawl that resulted in suspensions, bruises, and lawsuits

The historic NBA brawl that resulted in suspensions, bruises, and lawsuits

The first episode of the Netflix series Untold gave an insider perspective on one of the biggest brouhahas in US sports history. The infamous Pacers-Pistons brawl, also referred to as The Malice at the Palace, was so serious that it resulted in hefty fines, physical injuries, arrests, lawsuits, and most importantly, a wasted shot at an NBA title campaign.

The backstory

In November 2004, the Detroit Pistons faced the Indiana Pacers in a game that the red-hot Pacers considered to be a litmus test for their title campaign. At the time, the Pistons were the defending champions, having beaten a stacked Los Angeles Lakers the previous season. There was a lot of pride on the line, which was why the game quickly descended into a bruising, ego-fueled battle.

The Pacers were led by their aging captain, multiple-time All-Star Reggie Miller. Despite having spent his entire career elevating his team, Miller was unable to bring the Pacers an NBA title. The Pacers' 2004–2005 campaign was supposedly Miller’s last, which was why his talented, if mercurial, teammates — Stephen Jackson, Ron Artest, and Jermaine O’Neal — were keen to deliver him a ring. At what cost? Apparently enough to engage in a stadium-wide fistfight.

The Pistons, on the other hand, were at the time one of the most-feared teams. They were anchored by defensive stalwarts Rasheed Wallace and Ben Wallace, tough-nosed bruisers who dictated game outcomes with their physicality. In simple terms, the Wallaces beat teams into submission. They made their opponents afraid to come close to the rim, forcing them to instead shoot difficult shots from afar.

The slugfest

The Pistons’ hometown crowd was known to be raucous and boorish, but especially during that game. Any team coming to the Palace of Auburn Hills to play against the Pistons knew they needed to find a way to shut out the bloodthirsty crowd. And by the start of the fourth quarter, the tension was already very palpable.

The scoreboard, however, didn’t reflect this hostility, as the Pacers were up by 15, 97–82. Ben Wallace, already visibly frustrated at this point, shoved Ron Artest in the face after the latter fouled him during a layup attempt. It was a vicious swing, and it would not have been surprising if Mr. Artest had filed a lawsuit for assault.

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Wallace’s and Artest’s respective teammates were quick to separate the two, and the court quieted down rather quickly. Artest also voluntarily removed himself from the skirmish and laid down on the scorer’s table at midcourt away from all the other players. He even had enough presence of mind to do the breathing exercises his therapist recommended he do in stressful situations.

And then the cup flew.

A nearby fan threw his half-full beer cup at Artest, and the projectile landed squarely on the baller’s chest. This threw Artest into a blind rage, so he climbed into the stands to confront the fan. Artest accidentally punched the wrong guy, and was quickly surrounded by Pistons fans looking to sneak a hit on an NBA player — a rite of passage, perhaps. His teammates Jackson and O’Neal then threw a few punches at random fans.

The aftermath

The referees were powerless to pacify the rioters, so cops were called in to deescalate the situation. However, by the time police arrived, the players had already been ushered into the locker rooms and fans were making a break for the gates. The entire Pacers squad had to be brought out of the city with police escorts to protect them from the angry mobs. Several arrests were also made, with more to follow in the coming days. Then NBA Commissioner David Stern meted out hefty fines the next day for the players involved.

Ten NBA players were fined a total of over $11.5 million in withheld wages, with Ron Artest suffering the biggest blow: a $5 million fine on top of a full season suspension. Four players (Artest, Jackson, O’Neal, and teammate Anthony Johnson) also faced legal consequences, ranging from probation, fines, community service, and mandatory anger management therapy.

As if brawling with 6’10” athletes wasn’t punishment enough, several fans were also slapped with a variety of lawsuits — which in all honesty they deserved. John Green, beer-cup thrower extraordinaire, was charged with two counts of assault and battery and one count of trespassing, and received a lifetime ban from Pistons games. Fellow Pistons fan Bryant Jackson was charged with felony assault for throwing a chair at one of the players. Meanwhile, all involved fans were banned from attending Pistons games for two years.

After serving his one-year suspension from NBA play, Ron Artest revived his career, earning himself a championship while playing for the Lakers before retiring from the NBA in 2017. But perhaps his most significant achievement was his string of legal name changes — from Ron Artest to Metta World Peace to Panda’s Friend. He is currently known as Metta Sandiford-Artest.

If you get involved in a sports brawl, it pays to consult experienced legal counsel to minimize damages and even help repair strained relationships. Call personal injury lawyers Buckingham, LaGrandeur, & Williams for your personal injury case in Washington state. Contact us today to book an appointment.