for my money, the indelible image of the malice in the palace, the notorious 2004 courtside riot that pitted nba players against spectators and changed the shape of basketball as we know it, wasn’t it ron artest jumping on that? -fan of the eyes in the stands. or Artest and his fellow Indiana Pacers making their escape off the court as the unruly crowd cheered his half-consumed concessions from on high. Or even the rough and dirty artest committed against Ben Wallace of the Detroit Pistons at the end of this nationally televised Pacers blowout that kicked off the ugly business.
no, my indelible image was on the scorer’s table as an indifferent beachgoer just before a mug of beer spills on him, the palace in auburn hills goes haywire and the nba is denounced as a league of thugs. But it turns out that Artest wasn’t trying to escalate the situation; he was looking for peace. how I couldn’t see that back then has a lot to do with why the malice in the palace was interpreted as the ignominious moment where the players broke up and assaulted the fans, and not the other way around.
The new perspective comes courtesy of a five-part Netflix docuseries opening Tuesday called Untold, which revisits some of the most complex sports sagas of yesteryear. On the night of November 19, 2004, a date that lives in sports infamy, I was overdue for a new exam, and I say this as someone who should have been more skeptical. i covered the 2003-04 pacer team as a junior “journalist” at the associated press and had moved into the sports illustrated engine room when the mag put malice in the palace on the cover, with that artest still about to to drown out that wide-eyed viewer under the title “sportsrage”. that effectively set the tone for the conversation surrounding the riot, which had reminded grizzled hoops watchers of those days in the early 20th century when the game was played inside cages and players and spectators were regularly eliminated. /p>
with his league facing more scrutiny than ever, commissioner david stern tossed the book to visitors. Artest received an 86-game suspension, Stephen Jackson drew 30 games, and Jermaine O’Neal drew 25, which was reduced to 15 games on appeal. On top of that nearly $12 million in lost wages and the potential for more fines for violating a gag order imposed by Stern, those pacemakers had to reckon with varying levels of assault and battery charges. five minutes without counting, o’neal basically says that this is how people see it. And as someone who still remembers O’Neal as a mature, measured high school prodigy turned team statesman who was an automatic 20 and 10, this might have been the episode’s most heartbreaking moment. “I never got a chance to talk about it,” says O’Neal, who is an executive producer on the episode. “I didn’t even want to talk about it, to be completely honest.”
but the most important thing we learn as he, artest and wallace piece together that fateful night, well aside from the fact that one of the referees was none other than tim donaghy, is how quickly the narrative formed around the espn tunnel vision . in their cameras the players are the focus; that’s what they’re supposed to follow, after all. But directors Chapman and Maclain Way went deeper. they filed a freedom of information law request and gained access to security cameras inside the palace. Those raw images, which many are likely seeing for the first time, tell a very different story: lax security, drunken fans and Pacers players who feel they have no choice but to fight their way back into the locker room. . and when the cavalry finally arrived, they could not understand the situation either. a cop almost killed reggie miller.
As for Artest, he was perfectly cast as the instigator: a loose cannon who had been asking for time off all season to promote a rap album that, according to Rolling Stone, “suggests no talent.” but underneath those bars and dueling time that turned into a random appearance at the origin awards, there was a man crying for help. without counting it, he explains that by lying on the scorer’s table he was actually trying to apply a coping mechanism from his therapist, who had encouraged him to pause and count to five before making rash decisions. The first time Artest does this, it doesn’t seem to get past three before Wallace starts throwing his bracelets in his direction. the second time artest goes to bed, the beer glass falls down. “We were conditioned to some of the crazy things that Ron did over the past two years,” says O’Neal. “But what we were not conditioned to is information and tools to help the brother. I’m sure we’d all like more information about Ron and the struggles he had.”
In the years since the malice in the palace has become something of a joke, the stuff of novelty t-shirts and disco demolition-type wrestling lists. but the consequences of that struggle were profound. To shake his reputation as a bully, the NBA instituted a dress code and banned rookies from entering high school directly. the countdown clock started on the lunchbox pistons. (Interestingly, Rasheed Wallace and Larry Brown also gave interviews for untold time, but were cut during the 1h08 runtime.) the palace was razed. retired miller. the pacemakers went from being a rising power in the eastern conference to not being a factor. hell, you could even argue that that was the moment indiana went from hoops paradise to colt country.
this sense of loss manifests itself in another rare video discovered untold, of artest (now metta world peace) being interviewed by a local sports team after the 2010 lakers championship. here he was, on top off the mountain, and all he could think about was the pacemakers he left behind, most notably O’Neal, who plummeted from the pinnacle of stardom to becoming a day laborer. Since the riots, O’Neal, now a powerful businessman and mentor to first-round draft pick Cade Cunningham, Orlando Magic upstart RJ Hampton and thousands of others through his youth organization, says relations between him and Artest they had been frozen.
It wasn’t until two years ago, after they signed up for the big3 summer league, that the old teammates ended up going to lunch to talk about everything. And yet, O’Neal found himself learning even more in the making of this untold episode. “You have to understand, when we shot this, we didn’t do it together,” says O’Neal. “The first time I saw your side of the story it was the first cut, okay? and it was like, wow, this all makes sense now.”
untold doesn’t redeem artest and the like or reframe the malice in the palace as a time-excusable mistake. what the episode does is show how easy it is to rush to judgment before all the facts are in, and how quickly we move forward without even having the full picture.