On November 19 2004, at The Palace in Auburn Hills Michigan, the Indiana Pacers led the Detroit Pistons by 15 points with just 45.9 seconds left in the game. With the game effectively over, Pistons center Ben Wallace went for a layup but was fouled by Ron Artest.
A scuffle broke out and precipitated arguably the most infamous brawl in NBA history; the Malice In The Palace.
It was a night that shamed the NBA as Pacers players and Pistons players and fans brawled in the stands and out on the court, leading to the Pacers players being showered with food, beer and much worse from irate Pistons fans.
The game was abandoned and the Pacers guided back to the locker room as fans reigned down whatever they could lay their hands on upon them. Including, at one point, a metal chair.
That night is now the subject of an intriguing documentary from Netflix, which features all the main protagonists, players, coaches and members of the crowd, that were involved in this most infamous of brawls.
Ron Artest in the season the Malice at the Palace happened:
And he was coming off a DPOY, All-Star, All-Defense and All-NBA season the previous year. pic.twitter.com/XDWfcJOQsq
— StatMuse (@statmuse) August 11, 2021
Never Before Seen Footage
The documentary has already proven to be a huge hit for Netflix as viewers have flocked to discover the thoughts of those involved on that fateful night.
Ron Artest, now Metta Sandiford-Artest, who was at the eye of the storm features prominently as do his then teammates Stephen Jackson, Jermaine O’Neal and Reggie Miller. Ben Crawford of the Pistons also makes an appearance, as do several fans that were involved in the altercation.
It is unsurprising that so many NBA fans and other viewers are interested in what happened that night as it has been a pivotal moment in the history of the NBA and the documentary includes never before seen footage of the incident.
The scars it left behind on those involved, more psychological than physical, are clearly evident in what is a powerful and at times uncomfortable documentary.
More Sympathetic View
What is interesting in this documentary is that its narrative offers a far more sympathetic view of the players, especially those on the Indiana Pacers, than they were given at the time by the NBA Commissioner David Stern.
At the time, most media criticised the ‘thugs’ that were involved in the incident, with the blame ostensibly falling on Artest, Jackson and O’Neal, although many others from both teams, and fans of the Pistons were heavily involved.
Those three players are given free rein to describe their version of events and their reasoning behind what they did. It is frank and compelling viewing and at times, it is hard not to have a little sympathy for some of those involved.
To the producer’s credit, the documentary doesn’t try to apportion blame. Instead, viewers are presented with the evidence from those involved and then allowed to make up their own mind. It is certainly a different take on events than the knee-jerk reaction that was prevalent in the press at the time.
And it is also a salutary lesson given the mental health issues that have been brought into sharp focus in recent times by Naomi Osaka and Simone Biles. At that time, Artest clearly had mental health issues, but there was zero support available for the then Pacers guard.
If you have NetFlix then the documentary is well worth a view, whether you are an NBA fan, or not and then you will be able to make up your own mind over who was to blame for the Malice in the Palace brawl.