A Brief History
On November 19, 2004, the National Basketball Association reached perhaps its lowest point in its history when players and fans engaged in a rumble at The Palace of Auburn Hills outside Detroit, Michigan.
The Detroit Pistons, long known as “the bad boys” of the NBA had a history of being a rough and tumble team, with physical play and intimidating behavior. These Pistons could obviously play basketball well, too, as evidenced by being reigning NBA champions. The Pistons had beaten the Indiana Pacers in the Eastern Conference finals the previous season, and the Pacers were out to redeem themselves.
With less than a minute to go in the game, the Pacers were clearly going to win, boasting a 97-82 lead. The Piston’s Ben Wallace was smacked in the back of the head by Pacers own version of a “bad boy,” Ron Artest, resulting in a bench clearing by both teams to separate the 2 players who threatened to start fighting.
During this interruption of the game, Artest (ever the classy individual) laid down on the scorers table, apparently to rest. Then things went from bad to worse! While both teams continued the tense milling about and referees tried to regain order, the enraged Ben Wallace threw a towel at Artest, causing Artest to jump to his feet to confront Wallace while the Piston’s coach restrained Artest. A fan lobbed a cup full of Diet Coke (apparently not the riled player’s preferred beverage) at Artest, hitting him in the chest.
Artest ran into the stands and grabbed a fan, not the one that pelted him with the soda pop, and other players followed, some to protect the fans, some to attack Artest, and some to belt a fan (Stephon Jackson of the Pacers). The fan punched by Jackson had thrown another cup of Coke at Artest while he was being restrained by others.
Police were actually going to arrest Artest (hey, that rhymes!), but Pacers personnel rushed him onto the team bus before the cops could find him in the locker room. Artest was suspended for the rest of the season including playoffs, and Stephon Jackson was suspended for 30 games. The only other player with double digit suspension games was O’Neal, with a 15 game vacation. Another 6 players were suspended from 1 to 6 games, and 5 of the players were charged with crimes (nobody went to jail).
The fans involved, led by the goof that threw the first Diet Coke (John Green), also faced legal issues, with 9 of them injured, some banned from the Palace for life, and 8 of them were charged with crimes from trespass (for running onto the court) to assault.
The perpetrator, Green, had an extensive criminal history and was on probation for DUI when he triggered the riot by throwing his drink.
Fans were disgusted by both the players thuggish behavior and also the misconduct by the Piston’s fans as well. Of course, the NBA made security at games a higher priority. The Pistons once again made it to the NBA finals that season, but lost to the Tim Duncan led Spurs. Some of the Pacers players feel the volatile Artest was the cause of their failure to win the NBA championship that season.
Ron Artest legally changed his name in 2011 to Metta World Peace. (You cannot make this stuff up!) Question for students (and subscribers): What is the worst NBA experience you have witnessed? Please let us know in the comments section below this article.
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For more information, please see…
McCallum, Jack. “The Ugliest Game.” Sports Illustrated, November 29, 2004.