With Netflix’s Untold: Malice at the Palace breaking the internet since its Aug. 10 premiere, hoop heads have scurried to social media to offer their thoughts and opinions on the night that changed professional sports forever.
For those unfamiliar with the infamous brawl between NBA players and fans that took place on November 19, 2004, Untold: Malice at the Palace does an excellent job of providing a meaningful context for what led up to the controversial melee. From Metta Sandiford-Artest’s (then Ron Artest) struggles with severe anxiety and depression, to the bitter rivalry between the Indiana Pacers and Detroit Pistons, to the racial dynamics that came into play after it all went down, the film does a brilliant job of unpacking each of these components and providing new insight into how something that disastrous could’ve even happened in the first place.
Untold also provides former Indiana Pacers coach Isiah Thomas with an opportunity to offer his own thoughts on everything that transpired that fateful night. And leaning into what’s become his trademark when discussing his horrid post-playing career—revisionist history with a complimentary side of delusion—the Pistons legend claims that the brawl would’ve never happened if he was still coaching the team that season.
“I was the coach that (Rick) Carlisle replaced and I thought he did a good job with that Pacer team,” he said on NBA TV. “But I also say this: Had I not got fired, I believe I’d have won a championship with that Pacer team. And I don’t believe there would’ve been a ‘Malice at the Palace,’ because I don’t believe that the Pistons fans would’ve acted that way with me coaching that team.”
While he’s absolutely right about the Pacers being championship contenders during their doomed 2004-05 season—that team was loaded with premium talent in Stephen Jackson, Ron Artest, Reggie Miller, Jermaine O’Neal, and a bevy of complementary pieces—if he were that great of a coach then why did Larry Bird, the Pacers’ president of basketball operations, fire him in the first place? Probably because Thomas’ inexperience and questionable substitution patterns got the Pacers eliminated in the first round of the 2003 playoffs. And for those who argue that Thomas never got a fair shake at the helm of the franchise, his subsequent coaching stints with the New York Knicks and Florida International University prove otherwise.
As to whether Thomas’ presence alone would’ve prevented the full-scale chaos that ensued during “Malice at the Palace,’’ I’m inclined to believe he wouldn’t have stopped jack shit. Yes, Thomas is about the closest thing to God in the Motor City, but I don’t think ol’ boy who threw that soda at Artest was even remotely worried about upsetting a relic from the Piston’s distant past. The same can be said for the dozens of other spectators who lept into action, hurling chairs, fists, and whatever else at their disposal. But do we expect anything less from somebody as pretentious as Thomas?
Regardless of his opinion, do yourself a favor and watch Netflix’s Untold: Malice at the Palace.
You’re welcome in advance.