A New York Knick fan spat at the Atlanta Hawks’ Trae Young.
A Philadelphia 76ers fan poured popcorn all over then Washington Wizard, Russell Westbrook.
A Boston Celtics fan threw a beer at Brooklyn Net Kyrie Irving.
Did he even know what throwing a beer can lead to?
All these events plus many fights between fans which have been far too celebrated on social media instead of chastised, all happened in the space of a few weeks during last seasons NBA Playoffs.
Is this what happens when you open the gates to stadiums after a year of corona quarantined restrictions?
A bunch of fans out for blood like we were watching something from the ages of a Gladiatorial arena?
Or is this just what happens when there is a darkness in the investment fans have in the teams they love and therefore the hate they have for opposing ones or players, which is noted in this documentary?
Which is ironic considering said player may end up on your franchise one day the way players change hands as quickly as the sleight ones of magicians these days.
It’s time to put all this under analysis and reexamine one of the darkest days in NBA history (for more ways than you think) with the new Netflix ‘Malice At The Palace’ documentary produced by ‘The Players Tribune’ from their ‘Untold’ story series across all sports.
This opening episode brings to light more of the raw footage behind the scenes that they didn’t show on ESPN, as players lost more games and money than gamblers. All the key players are here. Indiana Pacers players Ron Artest (now Metta Sandiford-Artest), Jermaine O’Neal (who produced this doc), Stephen Jackson and the great Reggie Miller. The Detroit Pistons Ben Wallace. The fan that stormed the court. Many sports anchors and pundits. And even disgraced former referee Tim Donaghy.
Although the late, great commissioner David Stern isn’t here to defend the stand he made in suspending the players for so long. Especially, after a key moment in the first episode when the legendary Jim Gray, letting the interviewer do all the investigational work, insinuates something that you just have to watch to see.
We don’t want to spoil what you need to work out for yourself in this hard to watch documentary, for anyone that realizes racism is at the forefront of a lot of these sobering moments in sports. Fans demanding players perform and meet their expectations like super humans. Treating those they idolize like animals if they don’t.
Why has it taken us so long and what has happened in these playoffs for us to see?
The Indiana Pacers looked to be on their way to championship contention, years after losing to the Shaq and Kobe dynasty building Lakers in 2001. But the Detroit Pistons destroyed all of that. And big Ben Wallace and the Palace of Auburn Hills looked like the only thing standing in the way of Reggie having his day with his new big dog, big-three of O’Neal, Artest and Jackson.
The game on November 19th, 2004 was always going to be a thriller.
The Pacers were blowing out the Pistons on their own floor. They even disrespectfully left their big players in against the Bad Boys in garbage time. Then it got nasty. Ben Wallace went for a lay-up and Artest who was ruling everyone that game didn’t want him to have it. So he flagrantly pushed him. Ben, who had recently lost his brother, shoved him back so hard, Artest ended up taking a seat at the scorers table.
A scuffle broke out. The standard fare of raised tempers.
Ronny laid down on the scorers table. Many believed it to be beyond disrespectful. In this documentary Metta describes it as a technique from therapy to count, compose and calm himself down. One fan took exception and threw a beer.
Then it all went red.
Artest spilled into the stands looking for the fan and throwing punches. Stephen Jackson had his back and followed. Even Jermaine O’Neal who slipped, as he sucker punched a fan who made his way onto the court got involved. A slip that Reggie Miller calls the greatest miss of Jermaine’s career.
Otherwise, “that fan would be dead.”
Suspensions rained down with beer and popcorn (sound familiar?) as these players were taken off-court. One moment, Miller even grabbed Artest and stood in the way for his teammate as a police officer tired to mace him (sound familiar?).
That’s what you didn’t see on ESPN that night. Like many fans attacking Pacer players that were just trying to break things up like the Pistons players Ben and Rasheed Wallace were. You can clearly see a Pistons fan pummel Fred Jones, even when he ends up on the floor.
After this night the NBA and the watching world will never forget, the Pacers players were viewed as the new bad boys of the league. Quick to be labeled “thugs” and be blamed alongside Hip-Hop yet again, in all too easy excuse. Artest, O’Neal, Jackson and Ben Wallace of Detroit all received suspensions. Not a single fan did.
Remember, for perspective these playoffs those who had been spitting, or throwing snacks and drinks have been banned FOR LIFE.
In the aftermath Ron Artest changed his name to Metta World Peace and won a world championship with the Los Angeles Lakers. Stephen Jackson got one with the Spurs. But Jermaine O’Neal never got to become one of the best players in the league that he looked like and the real tragedy is Reggie never got that ring he so richly deserved.
This is what one beer can do.
When you look back at the fan who did it and his incorrigible interview were he is encouraged to make this all a joke, you can see just how entitled some sports spectators think they are. His only regrets are that he didn’t trip up Ron sooner as he expressed relief at Artest attacking another fan by mistake instead.
When you throw a beer at a passionate player who has just been involved in a fight and also has a history of anxiety and depression, right in the thick of his mental illness, then that makes for a combustible cocktail. We, nor Metta are defending his actions. He holds up his hands and takes all the blame. Even calling himself a coward on the day he won a chip with the Lakers for bailing out on his Pacers teammates.
But when we look back and view Artest in the players tunnel. Indiana jersey practically ripped in half and soaked in beer and hate. We can see. He’s looking to the sky confused as Reggie restrains him. He says something like, “I can’t walk”, struggling to catch his breath.
Let that be the last word on this new say of that fateful day.
Besides, Stephen Jackson says that after this he’ll never talk about it again.
This is it.