Hulne: Looking back at the ‘Malice at the Palace’

Published 5:55 pm Tuesday, August 10, 2021

The year 2004 was a wild time for me. I was a recent college graduate trying to find my way in the world of writing at the Courier Wedge in Durand, Wisconsin.

I was also, and still am, a hardcore fan of the Detroit Pistons. So I was probably one of the very few viewers who stuck around to watch the end of the Pacers taking care of business in Detroit on Nov. 19, 2004. I remember my heart sinking throughout the game as I clearly saw Indiana was going to be a force to be reckoned with and the Pistons chances of repeating as champs was dwindling with every moment.

I was enraged when Ron Artest threw a cheap shot foul at Ben Wallace with the game basically decided and delighted when Wallace retaliated with a ferocious shove to Artest’s throat. I would’ve been fine with everything ending there.

But as we all know, a cup of beer changed everything when an entitled fan, identified as John Green, threw his beverage in the direction of Artest. Green avoided Artest’s wrath, but his decision to act like a child triggered one of the most ridiculous and dangerous sports melees of our time. 

Elbows, fists and even a chair were thrown. Pacers players were doused with beer, soda and popcorn as if they were a bad comedy act.

It was all bad and none of it should be celebrated.

Much like the Chappelle’s Show skit “When Keepin it Real Goes Wrong,” a lot of people made horrendous decisions to turn the Malice at the Palace from a minor altercation to a full on brawl.

You have Artest going after a fan after refusing to mix it up with Wallace, you have Stephen Jackson sprinting into a crowd with the idea of throwing haymakers at everyone in his path and you have a security crew that seemed to have checked out mentally in the midst of a blowout that saw many fans leaving their seats.

The result of all of this was a disaster of epic proportions.

While much of the attention from the Malice has been focused on the players, fans and lack of security, to this day the refs of the contest have gotten off with far too little criticism. 

I get that the NBA had to protect its own, so I wasn’t expecting any action against officials, but I was always disappointed that the media never pointed out how poorly that final minute of the game was handled.  

The second Ben Wallace went after Ron Artest, both players should have been ejected and escorted off the court. The final score had been decided and nobody would’ve complained about a meaningless ejection of two players who were done playing basketball and more focused on taking out their anger on each other.

Also, the fact that Artest was allowed to lie on the scorer’s table as melee was going on around him, was a little out of line. A ref, or even a coach should’ve pulled him away from the angry mob that the Piston fans were slowly morphing into. But then again, Artest should’ve already been in the locker room at that point.

The fact that I just now found out that disgraced referee Tim Donaghy, who was involved in a betting scandal, was involved in the chaos only lessens my faith in how worthy that crew was to be officiating such an intense contest with so many big personalities.

After watching the documentary “Untold: Malice at the Palace,” I came away with two thoughts.

Some of the mainstream media was way too hard on the NBA, even going so far as saying the fight had to do with “hip hop culture” and “gangsta wannabes.”

You had an mentally unstable player (Artest) and a guy who would do anything for his teammates (Jackson) make really poor decisions. It’s outrageous to blame an entire league for that.

Lastly, I feel terrible for Jermaine O’Neal. The lone punch he threw was definitely in self defense, but he was lumped in with the antics of this entire circus. His name was dragged through the mud and he had watch the Pacers go from an up-and-coming contender into a joke. 

From seeing O’Neal’s interview in the film, I’m sure it still eats away at him. 

But that’s life. Sometimes we get caught up in a tornado through no fault of our own. It’s how you react and how you move on that makes you. 

If he hasn’t already, I truly hope O’Neal finds his redemption.