The epic brawl between the Pistons and Pacers on Nov. 19, 2004 is one of the darkest moments in NBA history. It's also one of those "I remember exactly where I was when it happened" events. (Random aside: how ironic is it that Metta World Peace will be in the building tonight?)
For me, I had just moved to St. Louis and had a big group of friends in town to visit. To say that St. Louis doesn't care about the NBA is an understatement -- in my brief time there, most sports fans I encountered there actively disliked the league -- but the fact this was an ESPN game meant we could watch it on a big screen at a local sports bar, even if they didn't give us any sound.
Once the game was essentially decided, our attention shifted to the pitchers of beer in front of us -- until I happened to look up and see Ben Wallace being restrained from going after Ron Artest. Perhaps because the moving pictures on TV suddenly started to resemble a hockey game, the sports bar turned the sound on.
And then it got worse. And then it kept getting worse.
I remember the weird mix of shock, excitement and dread that I was feeling -- and eventually, embarrassment and frustration as my St. Louis co-workers let fly all the jokes about the NBA and city of Detroit the following week.
People now remember the brawl as a singular event, but the fallout lasted the entire season in the form of court cases and suspensions (especially in the case of the Pacers, whose players received the harshest punishments). Eventually, even the NBA's dress code was a direct result of the brawl, with David Stern concerned about re-shaping the league's image.
One of the best accounts of the brawl that I've ever read comes from Detroit sportswriter Dave Hogg (@stareagle), who was on media row and wrote the following blog post just hours after the brawl, which he re-posted on the five-year anniversary in 2009:
As I watched the headband fly, I saw motion out of the corner of my eye. I turned that way, and to my horror, Artest had charged into the stands and was trying to kill some guy. Seconds later, he was joined by Stephen Jackson, who laid out a guy with one punch. Instead of being at the other end of the floor, this was now happening a few feet away from me.
The second row of the media is back against the old hockey boards, so we were basically trapped. We couldn't go forward and we couldn't go back. It is a hard process even getting in from the sides, and that's not with massive NBA players going over you and around you and things flying through the air.
I was trying to duck and help protect Dana, who was right next to me. At some point, I got pushed into the table, which tipped over, sending laptops, phones and TV monitors crashing to the ground. Dana was begging Chauncey Billups not to go into the crowd, telling him it would only make things worse.
By this point, the arena was in utter chaos. We didn't see a lot of the stuff live, being worried with the insanity in our immediate area, but Jermaine O'Neal sucker-punched one fan, and could have easily killed him. Morons dumped beer and threw ice at the Pacers players and coaches, and one fucktard threw a chair.
Eventually, the floor was cleared and the game was officially ended. Dana and I went to the back, and then I headed for the Pacers lockerroom, where I listened to one of their assistant coaches try to talk the police out of arresting O'Neal. Within a few minutes, the media was removed from the area, except for Jim Gray of ESPN, which pissed me off no end.
Eventually, a decision was made to get the Pacers out of there. No players were arrested, but there is a good chance that warrants may be issued in the next few days after the TV tapes are reviewed by the police and by the Oakland County Prosecutor's office. I also expect that there will be charges filed against some of the fans that were involved, if they can be identified on tape.
Read the whole thing -- it's still crazy after all these years.
Now your thoughts: where you the night of the brawl?