NBA Legacies: Malice At The Palace

Photo via Wikimedia Commons

Malice At The Palace is not just one of the most infamous events in NBA history, but across all American sports. You could have expected this particular game between the Detroit Pistons and the Indiana Pacers to be physical yet tensions were simmering even before the jump ball. This was a rematch of the Eastern Conference Finals from the previous season and it effectively changed the game of basketball. While you may not be able to put a bet on when a fan is due to throw a drink from the crowd, you can still check a range of the latest Detroit Pistons odds.

The Buildup To Malice At The Palace 

This was the first time that the Detroit Pistons and the Indiana Pacers had met since the Pistons were victorious in the Eastern Conference Finals from the previous year. The Pistons then prevailed in the NBA finals to claim the NBA title. Later footage showed how inebriated the fans were that night and how lax the security was which was a dangerous combination on its own. What was supposed to be a feisty rematch descended into scenes that brought the game of basketball into a scandal.

What Actually Happened

The rematch on Friday, November 19th, 2004 had all the hallmarks of a humdinger. Two sides that were closely matched with a fair share of needle between them. Indiana pulled ahead 97-82 as the final minutes played out which was a sizable victory and a slice of revenge. With only 46 seconds remaining, Pacers’ small forward Ron Artest committed a hard foul on Ben Wallace as the Pistons center tried a layup shot and Wallace shoved Artest. Coaches and players from the bench became involved and Artest removed himself to the scorer’s table to calm down. 

One of the indelible images from Malice At The Palace is of Artest laying on that scorer’s table. He appears like a relaxed sunbather but this was actually a coping mechanism suggested by his therapist. In highly stressful situations, he had been instructed to pause and then count to five before committing to any subsequent rash decisions. 

Artest lies on the table once and barely counts to three before Wallace has flung armbands towards him. As Artest goes to lie down again, he becomes a prime target for a particularly inebriated fan to launch a cup of beer. Even though Artest was searching for peace as he lay down, a projectile flung from the crowd sent those plans out of the window and Malice At The Palace officially kicked off.

What happened next was the lit match that blew up the powder keg. A fan, John Green, threw his cup of beer directly at Artest and the following actions have gone down in folklore. Artest was already ready to go and both he and his Pacer teammate Stephen Jackson ran into the crowd as chaos descended. Though the remaining 45.9 seconds were scratched off, there was an aftermath once Artest was joined by Jermaine O’Neal from the Pacers in swinging out at a couple of fans who rushed down to the court.

Artest mistakenly grabbed a different fan, Michael Ryan, and what was a melee became a brawl for a few minutes between players and fans. The game was called to a halt by the referees and attempts were made to break it all up. Eventually, Artest and the rest of the Indiana Pacers were led off the court as the remaining members of the crowd continued to hurl obscenities and barely-consumed concessions in their direction.   

The Aftermath

As the dust settled in the locker room, it became clear that there would be serious repercussions. Ron Artest asked Stephen Jackson whether they were going to get into trouble. As Jackson tried to come up with a response, Jamaal Tinsley believed they were going to be fired. 

The punishments were severe and doled out by David Stern, the NBA Commissioner. He suspended Artest for the remaining 73 games of the season, Jackson received a 30-game suspension while O’Neal was suspended for 25 games. Arguably the instigator of the brawl itself, Wallace was handed a six-game suspension while one-game suspensions were handed out for those players who had left the bench. 

The total cost of those suspensions amounted to a loss of $11m in salary alone. From the brawl, assault charges were meted out to five players, though the sentences were reduced to 12 months of community service and probation. Of the fans that were involved, five were handed life-bans for attending Pistons home games. The repercussions also meant that the NBA upped security to protect players from fans (and vice versa) while alcohol sales were strictly limited at games. 


To prove that bygones can truly be bygones, Ron Artest changed his name. He became known as Metta World Peace and eventually befriended the fan who threw that infamous cup of beer from the crowd. While the ESPN footage from the game has gone down in NBA history, a fresh perspective has recently been made available. Malice At The Palace has been featured in a Netflix ‘Untold’ series and the documentary provides a profound examination of the night itself, what led to it, and what happened next.

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