Updated: Dec 16, 2021
Growing up going to Pistons and Tigers games, I quickly learned how passionate Detroit sports fans are. That tremendous energy is a reason why many athletes have loved to call Detroit their home. I have, however, witnessed firsthand a number of occasions where Detroit fans allowed themselves to be consumed by their passion (and alcoholic beverages), resulting in what some might call “inappropriate behavior”.
This Thursday, December the 16th, the Detroit Pistons take on the Indiana Pacers at Gainbridge Fieldhouse. In light of this matchup and the recent release of the documentary, Untold: Malice At The Palace on Netflix, I thought I’d delve into the details of the incident as a Detroit Pistons fan. In this article, I’ll unpack the immediate effects that the infamous event had as well as the longstanding consequences for basketball fans.
On November 19th. 2004, the Pistons hosted the Pacers at The Palace of Auburn Hills. The Pacers had a secure lead entering the final minute of play. Former Pacer Stephen Jackson recounts that Indiana point guard Jamaal Tinsley told Ron Artest that the team had a foul to give, and Ron could “get his foul now”. The next play, Artest committed a hard foul on Ben Wallace, inciting a scuffle on the court.
Sports fans are no strangers to dramatic clashes between players, but it’s a rare occasion when the fans get involved in such altercations. As the fracas on the court reached its peak, Ron Artest laid down on the score table. Upon reflection, Artest claims that he was trying to employ a meditative practice taught to him by his therapist. To the fans in the arena, Ron was adding an exclamation mark to his blatantly disrespectful actions.
A Pistons fan threw a beer at Artest, igniting an all-out brawl between fans and Pacers players. Pistons supporters rushed the floor and Pacers players stormed the stands. The chaos resulted in lengthy suspensions for players from both teams, arena bans for some fans, and even indictments for players and fans alike, including Bryant Jackson, John Green, and John Frederick Ackerman.
So how does this affect basketball fans nearly a decade later? First of all, the clash of players and fans made arena staff across the country reevaluate their security measures. Today we can see an increase in the number of police officers and security guards working in NBA arenas. The much-deserved legal repercussions for fans who attacked Artest and other Pacers players was not just justice. The punishment of these fans also served as a message for all NBA game attendees: DO NOT MESS WITH THE PLAYERS!
In today’s game, even aggressive verbal heckling can get you tossed from the venue. Just the other week we saw a couple sitting courtside ejected for relentlessly harassing LeBron. Now, we have to consider the inherent bias favoring the living legend. Even so, it shows that times have changed. All that LeBron had to do was get the attention of arena staff and point to the disrespectful fans. Can you imagine a fan being ejected for heckling in the 70s, 80,s or 90s? I can’t even fathom the verbal attacks that players like Wilt and Jordan had to endure throughout their careers.
The Malice at The Palace placed the league in hot water with the media in the mid 2000s, and forced Former NBA Commissioner David Stern to take measures to clean up the public perception of the NBA. Commissioner Silver has taken a similarly strict approach to his predecessor in preserving the image of the league. Back in May, Commissioner Silver banned five fans from NBA arenas for inappropriate behavior. One such fan emptied their popcorn on Russell Westbrook. I mean, I understand not wanting Russ to drop a triple-double on your team, but was that really worth kissing those season tickets goodbye?
As a zealous Pistons supporter and a fan of the entire NBA, I’m honestly appalled by the actions of the crowd at The Palace on that infamous day. Detroiters like to tout their enthusiasm for sports, but there are limits to the form in which you express that excitement. Personally, I think that during a sporting event, fans should never engage athletes in any way that could harm them, physically or mentally.
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