DETROIT – The Detroit Pistons were getting blown out by their division rivals, the Indiana Pacers. It was, for all intents and purposes, a meaningless November game in the NBA.
With under a minute left, and the Pistons, down by 15, the game was all but over.
Then Ben Wallace took a hard foul from reigning Defensive Player of the Year Ron Artest near the hoop, with about 45 seconds left. The foul didn't seem that hard, but Wallace, clearly frustrated with the entire game, shoved Artest across the court. What happened next would change the NBA forever.
The ordeal, known as the “Malice at the Palace,” is 16 years old, having taken place on Nov. 19, 2004.
After Wallace shoved Artest, both team benches emptied to control the feud. The fight seemed over after just a few moments, but then Pistons fan John Green threw a beer at Artest, who was laying on the scorers table.
That's when several players crossed the forbidden line between the court and the stands.
Artest charged the crowd, igniting an all-out brawl at the Palace. Indiana Pacers players Stephen Jackson and Jermaine O'Neal rushed to help Artest, but ended up fighting other fans, while Pistons players like Rasheed Wallace and former Piston Rick Mahorn tried desperately to break up the brawl.
I'll never forget the look on Artest's face that night. He was scary. He was walking around punching anything in his way. Coaches and players were trying to hold him back, but couldn't. It felt like nothing could control him. I remember a police officer threatening to pepper spray Artest, but was talked out of it.
The brawl did not end in the stands, as players and fans continued the brawl on the court.
Artest returned to the court and was confronted by two fans. Artest punched one fan. Jermaine O'Neal intervened by punching the other fan in the jaw. It seemed like O'Neal came out of nowhere.
Pistons coach Larry Brown tried to address the Palace, but his microphone didn't work. He slammed it on the scorers table in disgust. Palace announcer Mason repeatedly asked fans to leave in a futile attempt to end the madness. Fans booed the players as they were escorted off the court by police, being pelted by beverages and even a folding chair.
The entire episode lasted less than 10 minutes, but it felt like the brawl filled the entire evening. The ordeal felt like a dream. Could this really be happening in the NBA, on national television?
In the locker room, Artest asked Jackson whether he thought the players would get in trouble. Jackson responded, "We'll be lucky if we have a freaking job," leading Jackson to conclude Artest "wasn't in his right mind to ask that question."
In the end, nine spectators were injured, two were taken to the hospital. Artest was suspended for 86 games without pay, Jackson for 30 games, and O'Neal for 15 games. Ben Wallace was suspended six games.
The brawl was the demise of the Indiana Pacers. It decimated their roster, and killed their playoff chances.
Media coverage over the next couple of weeks asked the obvious question: Who was to blame?
ESPN's John Saunders infamously declared Pistons fans to be "a bunch of punks." Stephen A. Smith suggested some of the fans be arrested. An ESPN poll taken at the time showed that 46 percent believed fans were to blame for the brawl.
The NBA took immediate security measures to make sure nothing like the "Malice" ever happened again. On Dec. 8, 2004, five Pacers players and five fans were charged with assault and battery. All of the fans involved were banned from the Palace of Auburn Hills.
That night will likely be talked about for as long as the NBA exists.