Malice at the Palace Brawl – What Happened?

Some people forget about morals and good sportsmanship when stakes are high. Such is the case for the event now known as the Malice at the Palace brawl.

On November 19, 2004, the last few moments of the game between the Detroit Pistons and Indiana Pacers were heating up. But a foul by Ron Artest (now Meta World Peace) to Ben Wallace sparked an on-court fight. Although the incident should end at that point, a fan threw a drink at Artest, causing the NBA player to show his furious side to the crowd as chaos ensued.

How did the Malice at the Palace brawl start? What happened to the crowd during the incident? Here, you’ll take a deep dive into what happened during one of the darkest moments in NBA history.

Many NBA fans know that the rivalry between the Pistons and Pacers always had heat. However, these conflicts would end by either team winning matches in friendly games of professional basketball.

In the 2003 to 2004 season, the two teams would once again meet at the court. It was the Easter Conference Finals, and the Pistons are leading by 4-2. If the Pacers fail at stopping the Pistons here, the Indiana team would go home with no cup in hand.

Both teams have good records in defense. Therefore, it was clear from the onset that both NBA teams didn’t want to give control of the basketball to their opponents.

As the clock ticked, it seemed that the Pistons are gaining ground. However, errors still surfaced as the Indiana athletes couldn’t seem to pull it together during the match. Thankfully, it seemed that this particular team hunkered down as it seemed to be going smoothly as the game reaches its final quarter.

The match continued, and the Pacers didn’t want the Pistons to still their chance of glory. Therefore, the heated rivalry between the two teams reached new heights. With only less than a minute left in the clock and the Pacers set to win the game as the Indiana team had a 15-point lead.

This score left a bad taste in the mouths of the Pacers, and Ben Wallace would be the one to spark the flame that will eventually lead to a wildfire of disorder.

How Did the Malice at the Palace Brawl Start?

Since the Pacers had a 15-point cushion, the team only needed to keep the ball for less than a minute to win the game. With 57 seconds left, the Pacers scored a free-throw, and it’s up to the Pistons to get the ball to Ben Wallace to attempt to steal the Indiana team’s shot at the limelight.

Wallace received the ball and he attempted to do a one-handed dunk. Artest, seeing that one of his teammates failed at stopping Wallace, went in to block and steal the ball. However, the move was clunky and resulted in an awkward foul.

Wallace was still able to pull off the shot. However, he would land off-balance on the court. As soon as Wallace regained his balance, he couldn’t resist his rage and pushed Artest.

Thankfully, a referee (and everyone else watching the game) saw the commotion. The NBA official got between the two players and stopped the fighting before it got worse. Other members of both teams also stood up from their benches to try and defuse the event. Players from both NBA teams held Artest and Wallace down to let the two players maintain a suitable distance from each other, especially from their fists.

It was Artest that first removed himself from the situation. He decided to walk away from the scuffle to cool his head. But instead of going to the benches, Artest decided to lie on the officials’ table. The officials didn’t bother with the NBA player lying on their desk if it would help his head cool down.

As it stands, Artest lying on the officials’ table was a big mistake.

How Did the Crowd Get Involved in the Malice at the Palace?

As Artest was lying on the officials’ table, jeers from Pistons fans echo across the arena. One Pistons fan by the name of John Green wasn’t particularly fond of what Artest did to Wallace. Said fan grabbed his drink and threw it at Artest, scoring a direct hit at the NBA player.

At this point, Artest should let the man’s act of fury slide. Instead, the Pacers player blocked all sense of reason from his mind and decided to beeline towards the angry individual who threw the drink. Green, upon seeing his mistake, was shocked to see the tall NBA athlete walking towards him angrily.

Surrounding players tried to grab Artest, attempting to restrain him. But NBA players are known for their strong physiques, so holding down a 6’6” player wasn’t easy. Thankfully, other Pacers players, such as Reggie Miller and Stephen Jackson, ran to the location of Artest and Green, helping the fans restrain the furious athlete. Again, at this point, the action should end.

Did the Pistons Fans Get Involved in the Malice at the Palace Scuffle?

But some Pacers fans saw otherwise as they thought Artest was still being attacked by other folks in the crowd. Artest, along with other Pacers players, made it back to the court safely, or so they thought. Sitting on the bench, Artest would, once again, become the target of a thrown drink. Next, two Pistons fans are walking towards Artest on the court.

Security was already all over the place as court authorities failed to see the two men storming the court. One of the Pistons fans came close to Artest, screaming obscenities and shouting profanities at the NBA player.

Once again, Artest could’ve let the words go inside one ear and out the other. Instead, he let his fist do the talking and subsequently punched the fan. Now, it was clear that this was already an act of violence from the point of view of many fans, including those in favor of the Pistons.

At this point, several Pistons fans across the arena stormed out of their seats and into the court. The scene was chaotic that the police now entered the location, pulling Artest away from the brawl.

How Did Other NBA Players Get Involved in the Malice at the Palace?

Artest’s teammates didn’t take the situation lightly and decided to join the brawl. Jermain O’Neal, in particular, dived into the scuffle with a right hook to one of the fans who was in the fight. Now, even more fans dived to the court.

The chaos is now more chaotic (for lack of a better word) than before. Police tell Reggie Miller to get Artest into the team’s locker room as fast as he could. Some fans deliberated that this move needed to be first instead of allowing Artest to lie on the officials’ table.

While Artest was walking with other officials to the changing room, some Pistons fans showered the NBA player with drinks. But this time it was for celebration and not out of anger.

The brawl didn’t end there as some Pistons fans decided to hang outside the tunnel while officials are talking to Artest in the locker room. Even more Pacers fans got out of the spectators’ area and stormed into the court to ‘meet’ the Pistons fans. One fan even threw a folded chair in the direction of Stephen Jackson.

The authorities helped disburse the unruly crowd after word that Artest and the other players are in their locker rooms.

Was Ron Artest Suspended After the Malice at the Palace Brawl?

NBA officials decided to suspend Artest for the rest of the 2003 to 2004 season, according to ESPN news. Artest, along with two other Indiana Pacers players, missed out on a total of 55 games for that year’s playoffs for physically fighting against and with fans.

Artest’s suspension is one of the harshest penalties the NBA placed upon a professional basketball player. NBA commissioner even said:

"The line is drawn, and my guess is that won't happen again -- certainly not by anybody who wants to be associated with our league.”

Aside from Artest, Indiana Pacer’s Stephen Jackson was also on the receiving end of the suspension hammer. Unlike Artest, Jackson had to undergo a 30-game suspension. On the other hand, Jermaine O’Neal was suspended for 25 games. Ben Wallace, the Detroit Pistons player that initiated the heated actions, had a six-game ban. Finally, Indiana Pacers’ Anthony Johnson only had a 5-game suspension.

Other players, namely Indiana Pacers Reggie Miller and Detroit Pistons Chauncey Billups, Derrick Coleman, and Elden Campbell, had one-game suspensions each.

The NBA’s officials also imposed a ‘No pay’ rule to these suspensions. Artest lost about $5 million from this suspension. O’Neal’s banning lost about $4 million from his suspensions.

Were There Illegal Activities During the Malice at the Palace Brawl?

Although the entire brawl can be deemed as illegal in itself, it didn’t help that Tim Donaghy was one of the officials during that game.

Who is Tim Donaghy?

Tim Donaghy was a former NBA referee who served 15 months in federal prison because of deliberately miscalling games. After being released after his sentence, Donaghy soon found himself back in prison for violating his release terms.

Donaghy’s records aren’t exactly what you can call ‘clean.’ However, his unfair antics also showed during his time as an NBA referee.

How Did Tim Donaghy Fix Games?

In January 2007, James ‘Jimmy’ Battista, an overweight 41-year-old at that time, sat down with Donaghy to impart a deal with the NBA referee. According to an ESPN article, Battista said the following to the ex-NBA official:

“You wanna get paid? Then you gotta cover the f---ing spread.”

The deal was a win-win situation for Donaghy. If the event didn’t happen, Battista would take it as a loss. However, if the incident happened and Donaghy would make the illicit call, the NBA referee would pocket $2,000.

Battista knew Donaghy for decades as both individuals went to the same high school just outside of Philadelphia. Delco, as the place is sometimes called, is a location abundant with sports bars. Therefore, gambling in sports is not unfamiliar to Donaghy and Battista.

However, this event led to the demise of Donaghy’s position in the NBA as he was later caught fixing official games. Authorities convicted Donaghy and were sent to federal prison.

Looking back, Tim Donaghy didn’t do much in the Malice at the Palace brawl. He attempted to restrain Artest once, failed, and backed off.

Donaghy’s interview with USA Today in 2014 allowed the ex-referee to recount what happened during the event. He said:

"Probably when Ron Artest started to go into the stands. I tried to grab him, he just broke away very easily and when I looked up there were other players in the stands, and punches were being thrown. So at that point, it was more serious than anything we were involved in ever before."

What Happened After the Malice at the Palace Brawl?

after malice at the palace

After the crowd dispersed and the officials suspended numerous NBA players, the Malice at the Palace fight continued outside the court. The incidents weren’t physical, but they were still quite damaging.

For instance, Charlie Haddad, one of the fans who joined in the scuffle, was the person who was at the receiving end of O’Neal’s right hook. After the incident, Haddad pushed to sue the NBA player for serious injuries. The court dismissed the case as Haddad originally violated the local ordinance against entering the basketball game’s space in the first place.

Haddad’s case wasn’t the only incident that happened after the date of the brawl. Another incident, this time with ESPN journalist John Peterson Saunders, blamed the fans for the incident and not the players. Saunders even called the Pistons fans a ‘bunch of jerks.’

Mark Shapiro, ESPN’s executive vice president, didn’t take Saunders’ statement lightly. Shapiro criticized the journalist’s remarks. Saunders wasn’t even apologetic for his remarks.

In November 2004, the New York Post TV Sports’ Andrew Marchand spoke with Saunders in an interview. Marchand asked if Saunders labeled the fans as ‘punks’ and ‘sissies,’ to which Saunders confirmed his statements. Saunders had the following to say for his reply:

“Yes, absolutely. First off, I would not have used such strong terms to describe with a broad brush the entire group of fans who were there and who weren’t at the game.”

Although Saunders confirmed his words mentioned in front of the camera, he also affirmed that he spoke from his emotions. He also said that it was one of the biggest learning experiences he had.

What Happened to Those Affected in the Malice at the Palace Brawl?

John Green, the fan that threw the first drink bottle to Ron Artest, made amends with the NBA player five years later after the brawl. In 2009, both individuals appeared in the Drew and Mike Show. Here, both individuals became ‘friends,’ or perhaps the closest bearing to that term. Both Green and Artest also confirmed that the incident is already behind them.

Final Words

The Malice at the Palace brawl was one of the NBA’s darkest and most chaotic events in professional basketball history. Players like Ron Artest, Ben Wallace, and Jermain O’Neal weren’t the only individuals who joined in the scuffle as several fans around the stadium were part of the brawl.

Some events after the incidents weren’t particularly enjoyable either as some athletes got suspended while some fans even tried to sue certain players. Today, basketball enthusiasts and official members of the league remember this occurrence as a great learning experience for the entire association.

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