We didn’t know what to expect from Netflix’s documentary Malice In The Palace, which most of you will know is about the brawl between the Indiana Pacers and the Detroit Pistons in 2004.
What we found out was how little we really knew about it.
The documentary focuses mainly on three players - Jermaine O’Neal, Ron Artest and Stephen Jackson. Reggie Miller is also is a major presence although he didn't dress for that game.
The first thing that struck us was the presence of O’Neal. He had a long NBA career but we don’t ever recall seeing him interviewed. He’s incredibly impressive here.
The second thing is that Miller basically called O’Neal, Artest and Jackson nuts and said, in so many words, that putting them together was a time bomb. It’s really hard to reconcile that description with the calm, eloquent presence of O’Neal here.
Then you see Artest.
He was portrayed as the worst of the worst after that all went down and it had a profound effect on him.
He was always seen as a tough guy, somewhat scary, but in this you see a very different side of him, a guy who talks about being in therapy, who apparently dealt with severe depression, and who, pretty clearly, was shattered by the whole event.
There is a clip of him after he won a title with the Lakers where he talks about being a coward for leaving Indiana and how he felt guilty for leaving his teammates. He’d just won a championship and he was still mourning his last team.
The Artest footage is really moving. He seems like a guy who needed some help and we hope he got it.
And Jackson? Okay, Miller might be right about Jackson.
But what’s really different here is that it’s the first time that we’re aware of that the players got to tell their side of the story in a major way. And it’s very compelling.
For one thing, the Pistons had minimal security which made things much worse. For another, the fan behavior was far worse than that of the players.
Does that justify going into the stands?
Of course not. But it’s past time to hear their side of the story and, juxtaposed with the media accounts, it makes you look at the whole sordid thing through fresh eyes.
We really recommend seeing this one. It’s arguably better than the Last Dance and certainly has more emotional depth because whatever you think about it, these guys paid, and in many ways continue to pay, a heavy price for what happened that night.