Netflix doc on Malice at Palace argues fight with Detroit Pistons fans cost Pacers NBA title

Detroit Free Press

The first episode of the Netflix’s new sports documentary series explores the infamous 2004 brawl between the Indiana Pacers and Detroit Pistons’ fans and the aftermath that resulted in criminal charges, fines, and suspensions.

“Untold: Malice at the Palace,” which debuts on the video streaming platform on Tuesday, recounts details from one of the darkest days in NBA and Detroit sports history. It’s a night that still produces mixed emotions.

“I’m never talking about this (expletive) again,” said former Pacers guard Stephen Jackson in the opening monologue, one of the main players featured throughout the documentary.

The film piece primarily focuses on Pacers, including Jermaine O’Neal, Metta Sandiford-Artest (formerly Ron Artest), Reggie Miller and  general manager Donnie Walsh, and their quest to win the franchise’s first NBA championship.

This group’s run was thwarted twice by the Pistons; in 2004, Detroit advanced to the NBA Finals by eliminating the Pacers in six games, in 2005, the spring after the brawl, the Pistons ended the Pacers, and Miller’s Hall of Fame career, in six games.

[ FROM 2014: NBA different a decade after Malice at Palace ]

One unmistakable takeaway from the documentary is that the brawl, more specifically the suspensions levied by league in the aftermath, dismantled one of the franchise’s best chances to win a title.

Hall of Famer center Ben Wallace was the only Piston player interviewed throughout the documentary; other players were only shown via archive game footage. Wallace’s camera time was limited to a few comments about the hard foul by Sandiford-Artest in the final minute of the game which Wallace deemed as unnecessary, along with Sandiford-Artest’s personal time-out in the prone position on the scorer’s table.

It was there that a plastic cup of beer, thrown by John Green, kickstarted the ugly scene where both Sandiford-Artest and Jackson went into the stands to fight fans. It continued where fans spilled onto the court and the violence continued.

Wallace makes no mention of his brother David, who was one of the fans criminally charged in the melee.

The film features multiple different angles capturing the cup thrown that landed on Sandiford-Artest’s chest. Looking to combat the “edited version of history,” viewers can see additional angles of players spilling out into the stands, Artest impromptu fight with a fan on the court and Miller’s interaction with Auburn Hills Police, who didn’t recognize Miller in the suit.

Before diving deep into the brawl, the documentary highlights the flourishing rivalry between the Pistons and Pacers starting with a flagrant foul by Sandiford-Artest on Richard Hamilton in the 2004 Eastern Conference finals.

Sandiford-Artest career was filled with eccentric and vicious moments, but filmmakers attempted shed light Artest on his mental health struggles during his career and particularly the 2004-05 season, where his depression and anxiety were at an all-time high.

“I would be depressed about certain things and have anxiety about future things,” Sandiford-Artest said in the documentary. “Some people have control over their emotions. I don’t.”

After rewatching footage of the brawl Jackson referred to the incident as a “15 against 30,000” mentality as Indiana players exited the court into a furry of popcorn, beer cans, soda, and a chair snatched from the studs by rowdy fans — the cause according to the documentary none other than rabid fanaticism.

“I am not going to lie. I threw a water bottle,” Pistons forward Josh Jackson wrote in a piece for The Undefeated in 2018 recounting his experience at the Palace during the brawl. “Why? It’s my home team. I’m a Pistons fan. What? The Pacers came in here throwing punches on my favorite players. I couldn’t have that.”

Despite suspensions, Indiana finished 44-38 and were bounced in the second round by Detroit. The film seemed to forgot that the Pistons advanced to a second straight NBA Finals. Still, O’Neal and Jackson seem to regret that Miller’s final season, and hence his 18-year career, ended without a championship.

“If the brawl hadn’t happened, we would have been champions,” Jackson said. “No question!”

Mia Berry is a sports reporting intern with the Free Press. Reach out via email:

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