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Larry Bird recalls being Pacers’ GM during Malice at the Palace

Pacers, Larry Bird

Indiana Pacers icon Larry Bird recently sat down with Marc Spears of The Undefeated for a wide-ranging interview. Amid their discussion, Bird was asked to comment on what many basketball fans view as the rowdiest brawl in NBA history: The Malice at the Palace.

Fights aren’t all that common in today’s NBA. Players are often separated before they can ask one another how their day went. Things were different in the older days, though. There were more dominant big men, less threes taken and plenty of banging in the paint.

Bird played in this era, and he knows a thing or two about heated rivalries on the court (see his matchups against Magic Johnson and Michael Jordan).

The Malice in the Palace took place somewhere in between these two eras. It was November 19, 2004. The Pacers were hosting the Detroit Pistons inside The Palace at Auburn Hills. Bird was serving as the general manager of the Pacers at that time.

With 45.9 seconds left in the game, Pistons big man Ben Wallace rose up for a layup, but he was fouled by Pacers forward Ron Artest. The game was already well in-hand, so Wallace took immediate exception to Artest’s blow.

Wallace pushed Artest, which then led to an on-court fight between several players. And in a stunning show of fanaticism, there were even some patrons who made their way onto the court as the fight ensued. One fan actually threw a drink at Artest, which caused him to fly into a fit of rage.

In the end, the officials were forced to call the game with 45.9 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter. The NBA suspended nine players for a total of 146 games, leading to the players losing $11 million in salary.

Bird wasn’t at the arena, but he says he remembers exactly how the events unfolded:

Spears: What was it like being the Pacers’ general manager during the “Malice in the Palace” on Nov. 19, 2004?

Bird: Stuff like that takes a lot out of you. To be a part of it was just awful. I’ve been through a lot of things, I’ve seen a lot of scuffles. I was not there, but I was watching it on TV. To watch something like that go on, and it wasn’t just the Pacers, it was both teams, and it was awful.

We took the brunt of it. But David [Stern] made a decision. But really it was both teams. It just gives you a real bad feeling. It’s been I don’t know how many years now. But I can still visualize all that went on during that time.

Spears: Looking back, how good do you think that Pacers team could have been?

Bird: Well, you build teams hopefully to get an opportunity to play in the Finals and they were definitely good enough. Even though we went to the Finals in 2000, I think that team was better. They didn’t get to show us how good they were.

In the end, there was some good that came of the Malice at the Palace. After the fight, the NBA increased its security between players and fans. The league also began to limit the sale of alcohol in games.