Metta World Peace, the controversial NBA player formerly known as Ron Artest, spoke before the Los Angeles Lakers' matchup against the Detroit Pistons at the Palace of Auburn Hills on Wednesday about his memories of the venue, including the infamous brawl in November of 2004.
“I see the flashbacks sometimes. Not necessarily out here – because when the fans are there, it's cool. But when nobody is in there, you reflect on it,” World Peace said in the locker room. “Sometimes you can look, and it's like, I see exactly where everything happened.”
Nobody will ever forget what proved to be one of the darkest moments in NBA (and sports) history. The Pistons and Indiana Pacers played on November 19, 2004. The Pacers were well on their way to handily beating the Pistons when, late in regulation, Ben Wallace went for a layup and was fouled by Artest.
Wallace responded by shoving Artest for what he thought was a flagrant foul. Players from both teams quickly moved to keep the two separated. Artest then calmly laid down on the score table as things appeared to be calming down.
Then all hell broke loose.
A fan threw a drink at Artest, who immediately jumped up and rushed into the stands to confront the fan, which led to arguably the ugliest melee in NBA history. When it was all over, the NBA suspended nine players for a total of 146 games, which led to $11 million in salary being lost by the players. Five players were also charged with assault, and eventually sentenced to a year of probation and community service. Five fans also faced criminal charges and were banned from attending Pistons home games for life.
Artest was suspended for the remainder of the season and playoffs. He later returned to play for the Pacers before being traded to the Sacramento Kings. He then moved on to play for the Houston Rockets before signing with the Los Angeles Lakers, helping them to the 2010 NBA championship. In 2011 he legally changed his name to Metta World Peace. He was also awarded the J. Walter Kennedy Citizenship Award for his work in promoting mental health awareness.
Now, in what was likely his final time at the Palace, World Peace feels long removed from the ugly incident in 2004, and even has some nice things to say about the building and the fans.
“I have no choice but to laugh about it now,” he said. “There's nothing else you can do….Great building, great fans. I know we had a lot of wars on the court. The Pistons – those were the roughest games I ever played in.”
During Detroit's championship run in 2004, they defeated Artest's Pacers in six games in the Eastern Conference Finals.
“That series, we had them bruising,” World Peace said. “Our whole group was tough, and their whole group was tough.”