(FOX 2) - It's a day that will live in Detroit sports infamy forever.
Professional basketball players coming off the court and into the stands, in a full-on brawl that left nine players suspended, 146 games missed, and $11 million lost in salary.
The day was November 19, 2004 —15 years ago today at The Palace in Auburn Hills. Let's take a step back in time.
The emotionally charged altercation now dubbed Malice at the Palace was, by some, a long time coming. The last time the Detroit Pistons and the Indiana Pacers had met was the season prior, when the Pistons knocked the Pacers out of the Eastern Conference Finals, 4-2.
Detroit went on to become NBA Champions, their first title since the Bad Boys era. There was bad blood and time to stew on it ahead of the incident.
"We felt like they were in our way. We were younger. We were better. We were more talented. We knew we were good - we had the best record at the time, and they were defending champions. They were saying, "We're the top dogs. We're the last ship until the ship sinks. Y'all gotta come through us." And that's what type of rivalry it was," said Pacers forward Jermaine O'Neal.
The Pacers (6-2) faced the defending champions (4-3) that evening with a lot of media attention. The Pacers were off to a hot start as the Pistons trailed by 16 points at the half. A 9-2 run to start the third quarter cut into the Pacers' lead, but it wasn't enough. With 3:52 remaining, Stephen Jackson's essentially put the game away with back-to-back field goals —93-79.
During the Pistons struggle, the game grew increasingly chippy.
"You could see it start to get a little testy between Ron and Ben. There was a foul at one end, another foul, and then a borderline foul and problems beyond the foul. The game was out of hand. I was hoping the officials were going to kick both players out," said Pacers assistant coach Mike Brown.
THE SNAPPING POINT
There were just 45.9 seconds remaining in the game when absolute mayhem erupted in The Palace. It had been a tough, physical game and tensions were high. Despite trailing 97-82, Pistons key players were still in the game, fighting, clawing, tooth and nail, for the win.
Pistons center Ben Wallace attempts a layup when Pacers small forward Ron Artest (now known as Metta World Peace) fouls him from behind, slapping him across the back of the head.
"He told me he was going to hit me, and he did it. That was just one of those things. It happened in the heat of the battle," Wallace later told the Chicago Daily Herald.
That was it -- fuses snapped.
Wallace wheels around and shoves Artest with both arms, sending him flailing backward. The crowd jumps to its feet. A sizeably smaller ref attempts to hold Artest back as Wallace advances toward him again. The benches emptied as teammates get involved.
It becomes a tornado of shoving players as coaches attempt to intervene. Pacer Stephen Jackson tugs at his jersey, trying to square up with Piston Derrick Coleman.
Artest lays down on the scorer's table and puts on a headset to talk to Pacers radio broadcasters.
Then -- the moment that escalated the brawl into an all-out melee: a fan throws a plastic cup of Diet Coke at Artest, which hit him in the chest. Artest snaps, leaps over the scorer's table and heads into the stands to take him out, grabbing the wrong man.
A group of men pull Artest back as Jackson delivers a blow to the face of another person in the stands for throwing another drink at Artest while he was being restrained.
According to Grantland, Pacers players David Harrison, Jamaal Tinsley, Eddie Gill, Fred Jones and Reggie Miller, along with Piston Rasheed Wallace, headed into the stands to break it up. The fan who threw the cup, later identified as John Green, manages to hit Artest twice in the head, while Ben Wallace's brother hit Jones.
With security outnumbered, it was mass chaos as players were being restrained left and right, while more fans threw things —some even walking onto the court. One man in a Pistons jersey approaches Artest who had just left the stands. Artest quickly punches the shouting man later identified as Alvin Shackleford in the face, knocking him to the ground.
That man's friend, Charlie Haddad, pushed Artest and fell to the floor, where Pacer Anthony Johnson punched him in the back of the head. As Haddad got back on his feet, Pacer Jermaine O'Neal took a running start and punched him in the face.
As you can imagine, referees quickly ended the game with those 45.9 seconds remaining and the Pacers won, 97-82. Shortly after the brawl, the NBA handed down punishments — 137 games for Pacers players and nine games for Pistons, for a total loss of $11 million in salary.
Ben Wallace - 6 games - $400,000 lost in salary
Chauncey Billups - 1 game - $60,611
Derrick Coleman - 1 game - $50,000
Elden Campbell - 1 game - $48,888
Ron Artest - Remainder of season (86 games) - $4,995,000
Stephen Jackson - 30 games - $1,700,000
Jermaine O'Neal - 15 games - (originally 25, lowered after appeal) - $4,111,000
Anthony Johnson - 5 games - $122,000
Reggie Miller - 1 game - $61,111
At least five players faced legal punishments: Ron Artest, Stephen Jackson, Jermaine O'Neal, Anthony Johnson and David Harrison (Pacers). They received similar sentences, including a year of probation, a $250 fine, community service, and anger management counseling.
As for the fan who threw the drink, Green told ESPN he was convicted of misdemeanor assault for punching Artest. He was sentenced to 30 days in jail and two years' probation, ordered to attended Alcoholics Anonymous, anger management classes and banned from Pistons games for life. He said Artest reached out in 2009 to apologize and wanted to do some community service together for young people.
The Malice at the Palace was arguably a moment unlike any other in Detroit history (though Fight Night at the Joe is right up there.) It was a full-out brawl that had players not only throwing punches between each other but heading into the stands. And 15 years later you can't help but wonder — what if social media had been a thing?