Pistons Pacers Fight with Fans in Stands

The Malice at the Palace is considered the most infamous brawl in sports history, as NBA’s Indiana Pacers players entered the stands to fight with the Detroit Pistons’ fans. On November 19, 2004, the Detroit Pistons and the Indiana Pacers met for the first time since the previous season’s Eastern Conference Finals, which the Pistons won in six games en route to their first NBA title since the “Bad Boys” era of the late 1980s and early 1990s. The game was televised nationally on ESPN, as well as on the Pacers’ and Pistons’ local broadcast affiliates, Fox Sports Midwest and WDIV (Detroit’s NBC affiliate), respectively.

The brawl began with 45.9 seconds remaining in the game, when Indiana led 97–82. Pistons center Ben Wallace was fouled from behind by Pacers small forward Ron Artest, who slapped him across the back of the head during a layup attempt. Wallace later said that Artest had warned him he would be hit. Wallace responded by shoving Artest in the chest with both hands, causing players from both teams to quickly get in between them as they attempted to keep the two separated.

During the altercation, Artest lay down on the scorer’s table to relax while putting on a headset to speak with Pacers radio broadcaster Mark Boyle. The microphone was not live. Boyle recalled that the broadcasting team knew Artest’s personality and “there was no way we were going to put an open mic in front of Ron Artest in that situation”. Pacers president Donnie Walsh later stated that Artest was following advice he had received on how to calm down and avoid trouble in a volatile situation. After unsuccessfully attempting to break up the confrontation, referees prepared to eject various players before the game resumed.

Ron Artest crosses the line

Ninety seconds after Wallace shoved Artest, most of both teams’ players and coaches were huddled at midcourt, attempting to calm down Wallace. While Artest was lying on the table, Wallace threw a towel at him, causing Artest to briefly stand up before being held back by coaches. A spectator then threw a plastic cup of Diet Coke at Artest, hitting him in the chest. Artest jumped off the table, ran into the stands, and grabbed a man, who he mistakenly believed was responsible.

Pacers radio broadcaster Mark Boyle stood up to try and hold back Artest and was trampled in the effort, suffering five fractured vertebrae and a gouge on his head. Jackson followed Artest into the stands and punched a fan in the face in retaliation. Pacers players Eddie Gill, David Harrison, Reggie Miller, Fred Jones, and Jamaal Tinsley, the Pistons’ Rasheed Wallace, and numerous personnel (including Pistons radio analyst and former player Rick Mahorn) also quickly entered the stands to get Artest and Jackson, and to break up the fighting. Green punched Artest twice in the head from behind, as did Ben Wallace’s brother, David. More fans then began throwing drinks, food, and other objects, and some fans entered the court.

As Artest walked out of the stands, he was confronted by two more fans who ran onto the court. Artest punched one of them in the face, causing another fan to intervene by pushing away Artest, before both fans fell over. While one fan was on the floor, Anthony Johnson struck him in the back of the head. As he stood up, Jermaine O’Neal punched him in the jaw after a running start, while slipping in liquid and falling backwards, causing witnesses Scot Pollard, ESPN sideline reporter Jim Gray, and a Pistons executive, Tom Wilson, to briefly fear that O’Neal would kill the fan. The scene became chaotic as outnumbered arena security struggled to reestablish order. Although Auburn Hills, Michigan police had plans to handle many disorders, and had three officers in the arena, they were unprepared for Pacers’ players entering the stands to fight the fans.

Posted by Jordan Sullivan

Subscribe to our monthly Sports History Newsletter