It's been 10 years. In some ways it feels like it's been 100 and in some ways it feels like it's been 10 days. I still remember watching everything unfold live from my tiny closet of a dorm room, sitting on my bed while my big tube television was propped up on top of my dresser.
I remember the clobber to the head, the shove, the lie down. The cup. And chaos.
But, really, it feels like forever ago because the players are gone, the teams have moved on and I'm more concerned with a lack of fans at Pistons games as opposed to their tarnished reputation. So in trying to think of how to commemorate the anniversary -- hopefully for the last time -- I was struggling to create an angle.
What was my #hottake gonna be? And the truth is, my take is that I don't care.
Because it doesn't really matter. The NBA had had an image problem before and after the brawl, much of it unearned. The city of Detroit had an image problem before and after the brawl, much of it unearned. Ron Artest had an image problem before and after the brawl, some of it unearned.
The league took steps to increase security and repair its image. Has it worked? Maybe. The league instituted a dress code, and while that's the definition of a superficial fix, I can't say that I don't mind replacing an endless series of throwback jerseys with whatever the hell Russell Westbrook wears on a given night.
But really the chaos just sort of eventually faded away and the larger truth has been able to emerge. The players aren't a bunch of thugs and Detroit doesn't have violent fans. The Pacers were eventually able to recover and the Pistons went on to the finals the season of the brawl and their run eventually petered out naturally. Now they're rebuilding and trying to reclaim relevance -- and fans in the process.
The truth is, the brawl didn't mean much of anything. It just happened. Today, marks the 10-year anniversary of that thing that happened. Big deal.
It was a perfect convergence of several unfortunate things. If Artest moves his forearm an inch either way he doesn't connect so squarely on the back of Wallace's head. If Wallace doesn't shove him forcefully and instead engages in the kind of pretend fighting NBA players are known for nothing escalates. If Artest didn't already have issues with a hot temper his teammates don't forcefully move him 40 feet away form Wallace and to the side of the court. If it's not already a heated rivalry between the two teams both sides probably stay separated and move on. If Artest doesn't have something to prove by not getting enraged he doesn't overcompensate and lie down on the scorer's table. If the cup misses, nothing happens. If the cup hits and the offender was two rows deep instead of 15 rows deep, Artest and the fan grapple, everyone gets pulled away and nothing more comes of it.
But the cup hit, the fan was far away, Artest ran directly into the heart of the lower bowl, his teammates followed and 20,000 fans saw gigantic men wailing on fans with little context. The fans retaliated (many a thrown beer and popcorn), ran away or soaked up the madness and ran on the court (you're lucky O'Neal didn't kill ya, buddy).
Again, it just happened. Any of a dozen things happen differently and it doesn't happen but it did. Could have happened anywhere, but it happened in Detroit. Ten years ago. Yawn.
For those more interested in reliving that fateful night here's a compendium of links. Now let's never speak of it again.
Read Dave Hogg's account that he wrote on his personal blog the night of the brawl.
Jonathan Abrams, Grantland, The Malice at the Palace, this is the definitive, must-read piece of the incident
Vincent Goodwill, Detroit News, Ten Years Later: "The Brawl" prompted change in the NBA
Shawn Windsor, Detroit Free Press, Ugliness of "Malice at the Palace" still stuns
Jo-Ann Barnas, Indianapolis Star, Malice at the Palace prosecutor remembers 10 years later
Nat Newell, Indianapolis Star, What would have happened to the Pacers if there wasn't a brawl?
Candace Buckner, Indianapolis Star, As "Malice at the Palace" brawl turns 10, impact lasts
Nat Newell, Indianapolis Star, Where are they now: Key participants in Pacers-Pistons fans brawl
Jo-Ann Bamas, Indianapolis Star, Rick Mahorn recalls his role in trying to stop brawl
Dan Feldman, Piston Powered, Malice at the Palace, 10 years later, links Pistons fans
Tom Lewis, Indy Cornrows, No need for Pacers to look back 10 years after The Brawl