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Throwback Thursday: Malice at the Palace

(Photo: DUANE BURLESON, AP)

11 years ago today, one of the best-named incidents in NBA history occurred: “Malice at the Palace.” Whatever your thoughts on the incident were, that moniker made it one people will never forget. And if that sounds like some sort of name for a boxing event, it’s because it more or less was.

The opening card was a relatively mundane and barely hard foul by the Indiana Pacers’ Ron Artest (this was pre-Metta World Peace) on the Detroit Pistons’ Ben Wallace with 45 seconds left in the game and the Pistons up 15. Wallace threw an elbow at Artest.

That’s when the second fight on the undercard occurred. A massive melee broke out by the scorer’s table with Stephen Jackson doing his “Sugar Ray Leonard” dance. The coaches and officials were trying to get between players and stop more fighting, but that’s when things got worse.

Watch the whole thing unfold:

A fan (later identified as John Green) decided to get involved, and threw his beer and a bottle on Artest, who, aside from the relatively benign foul, hadn’t really been involved and was just laying on the scorer’s table. And that got Artest lit. He ran up into the stands and went after the fan who had gone after him.

Reggie Miller (who was on IR at the time)  remembered the events for Dan Patrick last August:

“The referees, they’re huddling. Ron goes lays down. And I’m like, ‘Hey, calm down big fella,’ and out of the corner of my eye I see the red cup traveling in slow motion towards Ron. As soon as it hits Ron, it was like the Incredible Hulk. He turned green. And I looked at him. The eyes went white. I was like, ‘NOOOO!!!!’ And it was just like slow motion. He just jumped off the table, and the rest is history. It was crazy. That whole season was crazy.”

So Patrick asks Miller to tell him something he didn’t know:

I believe, at the time, Steven Jackson was in the stands, in the same area. Chuck Person and I went in to get Ron. Our first pirority was to get Ron back out of the stands onto the court. We get Ron onto the court — and I remember this vividly — we’re at half court and we’re telling him to calm down — this is all in the matter of 35 or 45 seconds — a police officer runs up to us and has his mace out and is getting ready to spray Ron in his face. And everything is going crazy in the stands. Fans now are starting to run onto the court. And we have Ron. I mean Ron is secure now. And he’s running up to Ron and he’s getting ready to spray him in his face. And I put my arm out like, ‘You know, what are you doing?’ Go get the fans off the court, we have him! And that’s when Chuck and I escort Ron with the popcorn and all that….I just remember that officer with the mace in his hand running up to us to probably spray all of us, but more so Ron. And I’m like, no dude, it’s not going to go down like that. That’s the one thing I remember vividly from that, other than the whites of Ron’s eyes.

If that story doesn’t catch the chaos, nothing will. Players in the stands punching fans. Fans in the stands pouring drinks on players trying to leave. Fans on the court trying to start fights. And police officers ready to mace players. One fan threw a beer and later was convicted of a felony for it.

One of the weirdest things to me was the debate which raged for days afterwards over who was at fault, as though only one person could be the right answer. Guess what, 278 wrongs don’t make a right.

In all, five Pacers (Artest, Jackson, Jermaine O’Neal,  Anthony Johnson and David Harrison) were charged with assault and battery, as did five fans, including Green. Green was convicted by a jury trial and received 30 days in jail and two years probation. Not surprisingly, he was also banned for life from attending Pistons home games.

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