We see so many stories about athletes getting in trouble nowadays. As a result, we’re all inclined to believe that the world’s best athletes are more than happy to risk their health in pursuit of victory – and that they’re not afraid to go against the grain and stay out of trouble, too.

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There’s a tidbit from two years before the fatal game that stands out among all the little-remembered facts of the “Malice at the Palace,” the brawl between the Indiana Pacers and the Detroit Pistons. Jermaine O’Neal was awarded the NBA’s Most Improved Player Award in the spring of 2002, with Ben Wallace finishing second.

Both O’Neal and Wallace had just completed their sixth season in the NBA, a moment at which leading the voting – ahead of third-place finisher Steve Nash – confirms a new lease on life for a career that was otherwise on its way out.

More than a decade and a half later, the basketball world speculates on what may have happened if Wallace had retired from the league in 2004 rather than playing until 2012.

‘Malice at the Palace’ is examined in depth by Netflix.

Untold, a documentary series on Caitlyn Jenner and Mardy Fish, has been removed from Netflix. One episode looks at the incident between the Pacers and Pistons at The Palace of Auburn Hills on Nov. 19, 2004. The brawl began with a shove on the court and quickly escalated into a brawl between players and onlookers.

The chaos erupted with 45.9 seconds left in the game and the Pacers up 97-82. Metta Sandiford-Artest, then known as Ron Artest, came in from behind on a layup to foul Wallace. With a massive shove of Sandiford-Artest, the Pistons center registered his rage over a slash across the back of his head, clearing the benches.

The damage to that point was negligible, and Sandiford-Artest was left on the scorer’s table as players milled around. Sandiford-Artest was unstable, thus the behavior didn’t appear to be out of character for him. He was employing a coping method he acquired to de-escalate a hostile situation, which was unknown at the time.

Wallace threw wristbands at Sandiford-Artest, but a supporter threw a beer at him shortly later. He sprung off the table and dashed into the stands, chasing down the fan. Stephen Jackson, Reggie Miller, Eddie Gill, David Harrison, Jamaal Tinsley, and Fred Jones all followed him into the stands behind the benches, causing complete anarchy.

As the majority of the action returned to the court, a pair of fans approached Sandiford-Artest, who punched one of them. O’Neal then stepped in and landed a solid punch on the other’s head while slipping and tumbling backward.

Jermaine O’Neal suffered a financial setback.


Jermain-ONeal-1-1024x678 The Indiana Pacers’ Jermaine O’Neal warms up before a game against the Washington Wizards at the MCI Center in Washington, D.C. on Jan. 4, 2003. Getty Images/C. | G Fiume

Pacers players battled to go back to their locker room after being pelted with drinks and bottles by supporters.

The real trouble had only just begun.

Five Pacers players were charged, including Sandiford-Artest and O’Neal. All of them were given probation and a modest fine. The NBA, on the other hand, imposed harsh punishments.

Sandiford-punishment Artest’s lasted 86 games, including 13 playoff games, and cost him slightly under $5 million in compensation. Jackson was fined 30 games by Commissioner David Stern, resulting in a $1.7 million pay loss.

O’Neal was also punished for 25 games by Stern. In arbitration, the player was successful in reducing the penalty to 15 games. Despite this, O’Neal suffered a $2.7 million loss.

Miller was in his final season with the Pacers, who started 7-2. Observers thought they had a chance to win the NBA, but the sanctions took away crucial players. Indiana finished 44-38 and lost in the Eastern Conference semifinals against the Pistons.

‘You’re some hoodlum who doesn’t care about life,’ says Jermaine O’Neal.

At the age of 18, O’Neal made his NBA debut for the Portland Trail Blazers, fresh out of high school in South Carolina. He started his career on the bench in Portland, scoring 817 points in four seasons before being traded to the Pacers.

Before the fatal 2004-05 season, the 6-foot-11 forward and center had averaged 18.1 points and 10.1 rebounds in his first four seasons with Indiana. He stayed with the Pacers until 2008, then went on to play for five additional NBA clubs until 2014.

In the years afterwards, O’Neal has said very little about “Malice at the Palace,” yet he felt obligated to participate in the documentary.

He told Complex.com that “people’s view and the stuff out there isn’t necessarily the truth.”

“Walking away from this stuff with people looking at you sideways, like you’re some hoodlum who doesn’t care about life, that’s a major problem for me,” he continued.

O’Neal admits to being “aggressive as a player,” yet he played in 1,011 games before retiring with little more than the usual technical foul fines. Despite this, the one game in Auburn Hills left him with a bad name.

He stated, “It’s a really emotional subject for me.” “I have a great deal of admiration and respect for the Indiana Pacers, the NBA, and the fans, who support us in a variety of ways. But, bro, it was a long night. It had been a particularly trying evening.

And it all started with a shove on a meaningless layup in a game that wasn’t even close to being meaningless.

Basketball Reference provided all stats. 

RELATED: In 2021, Al Harrington’s marijuana empire will earn twice as much as he did in all of his 16 NBA seasons

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