November 19, 2004. The night a bitter rivalry transformed into an ugly brawl. The night that is synonymous with the terms chaos and mayhem. The night a team’s championship hopes were dashed. The night a fan base became disillusioned. The night now referred to as Malice at the Palace, or The Brawl. The night still remembered as one of the darkest moments in NBA history.
The memories and images from that Pacers game at Auburn Hills are horrible.
Chippy fouls escalated into an all-out melee. Beverages, bottles, and other debris were hurled at the players and the court. Punches were thrown. Coaches were seen desperately trying to restrain players. A chair was chucked. Bodyguards were visibly shielding the heads of players and coaches as they attempted to exit the arena. Commentators were heard asking for the whereabouts of security. Larry Brown grabbed a microphone and pleaded for fans to peaceably leave the arena. The whole night was a complete and utter disgrace.
Nine years later, the pictures and videos from that night are still hard to watch. Just ask Pacers radio broadcaster, Mark Boyle:
It’s been nine years, and I finally watched The Brawl video for the first time. Wish I hadn’t. (via Twitter, September 26)
The impact the brawl had on the Pacers franchise going forward is well documented. The suspensions handed down ended the team’s quest for a championship. One-by-one many of the members of the 2004-2005 Pacers relocated to new teams. For the next several seasons, the Pacers were lottery bound. Conseco Fieldhouse became like a ghost town – sparsely filled with some "fans" simply using the Pacers arena as a vehicle to see the other 29 teams play.
Despite that, in later interviews, some have questioned if The Brawl was truthfully the impetus for the short-term downfall of the Indiana Pacers. In an oral history of The Malice at the Palace conducted by Grantland , Mark Monteith (member of the pacers.com staff) stated:
"People say the brawl is what caused the demise of the Pacers. I disagree; they put the team back together the following year except for Reggie Miller retiring. To me, what led to the downturn is Ron Artest making that trade demand [in December 2005]."
Many NBA fans see Artest (now Metta World Peace) as the instigator of The Brawl. From their perspective, he is the one that unnecessarily fouled Wallace at the end of the game. He is the one that crossed a line by going into the stands at the Palace of Auburn Hills. He is the one that could not control his temper.
From his former teammates’ perspective, he betrayed the Pacers by asking for that trade. They went to battle for him. They were willing to be suspended, or worse, for him. With regard to Ron’s request, Donnie Walsh told Grantland:
"A lot of the players stood up for Ronnie. Jermaine got suspended. Jack got suspended. A lot of guys got punished. When he stood up and said he wanted to be traded, that really put the team in a whole different situation. They felt like he wanted to walk out of there after he had really hurt the team."
Of course, fans know that the Pacers granted Artest’s trade request. After time spent in Sacramento and Houston, Artest won a championship with the L.A. Lakers. While he was raising a banner in the Staples Center and changing his name to Metta World Peace, the Pacers were going through a long rebuild and still feeling the aftershocks of November 19, 2004.
After a home game against Metta World Peace’s Lakers last season, George Hill told the Indianapolis Star:
"It sucks. It was 70 (Lakers fans) – 30 (Pacers fans) out there. These are the same people that wants autographs after the game. We're out there in the community. We're doing our job, doing what we're supposed to do on and off the court. Something has to change. I tip my hat to this team. We've been trouble free. Been out in the community shaking hands, we're winning. It shouldn't feel like an away game, especially with an important (game) like this. Tonight, that's what it felt like."
Hill has a point. The Pacers were competitive last year. They won the Central Division, yet they still ranked 25th in attendance. Is there another explanation for this besides Malice at the Palace?
This summer, the Pacers made some tweaks to an already championship caliber roster. As Larry Bird says, they are all in. Meanwhile, the Lakers amnestied World Peace. This season, he will be donning a Knicks uniform.
During a preseason interview with the New York Post, he revealed that he has written a memoir concerning the events of November 19, 2004, by stating in a Q&A with Steve Serby:
Q: The Malice at the Palace.
A: I wrote a book about it, son. I think I’m gonna wait to talk about it. But I wrote a book about that whole experience.
Q: When’s it coming out?
A: I think next summer.
It is hard to know whether or not to take World Peace seriously about this? This is the same player that responded to a question regarding his ability to play in a game just 12 days after surgery on his torn meniscus by stating, "I’m too sexy for my cat." Saying he wrote a book about Malice at the Palace could just have been a diversionary tactic. Perhaps, he just did not want to elaborate about his part in The Brawl.
However, assuming he has truthfully penned a memoir, would Pacers fans actually be interested in reading and reliving The Brawl? The Pacers franchise, players, and fans have already been living with the aforementioned effects of that night and his trade request for years now.
Of course, it is entirely possible that his memoir might include apologies to his former teammates and the city of Indianapolis. He may, even accurately, feel he was provoked. He likely regrets the way the whole incident escalated into a melee. He probably wishes he could get back the 73 games of his career he missed serving his suspension. He might even wonder if he and his teammates would have won the title that year.
However, it should be noted, that he later stated in the Q&A:
Q: But given those same circumstances, would you react the same today?
A: I don’t think about it. There’s nothing to think about.
Perhaps, World Peace is right. There’s nothing to think about. Reading another memoir or oral history of November 19, 2004, would likely leave Pacers’ fans wanting to utter the same thing Mark Boyle tweeted after watching clips of that night nine years later:
… "Wish I hadn’t"
It is time to move on to a new era in Pacers history. It is time to root for a team that will hopefully be remembered for its teamwork, high character, and banners hung – not for an infamous night in Detroit. Like former Pacer, Jermaine O’Neal stated in the oral history with Grantland published in 2012:
"That’s why I’m extremely proud of what they’re doing this year, because now the fans have something to be happy about again."
NY Post Q&A with Metta World Peace
Grantland: An oral history of the Malice at the Palace
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