It’s been exactly a year since the Detroit Pistons were involved in perhaps the worst brawl in U.S. sports history, an incident that shook the NBA to its very foundations.
That’ll be the last thing on the defending Eastern Conference champions’ minds as they try to match the best start in franchise history against the Dallas Mavericks.
The well-chronicled skirmish occurred at the Palace in Auburn Hills last Nov. 19, when Indiana’s Ron Artest fouled Detroit’s Ben Wallace with 45.9 seconds left in a game that was essentially over. Wallace responded with a two-handed shove to Artest’s chin, leading to several players pushing and Artest lying on the scorer’s table.
Just when the confrontation appeared over, a fan hit Artest with a cup. Artest bolted into the stands in a rage, followed by fist-swinging teammate Stephen Jackson.
Artest and teammate Jermaine O’Neal later slugged fans on the court, and when the Pacers finally were able to get off the floor, they were pelted with beer, popcorn and other debris.
Two days later, Artest was suspended for the rest of the season—73 games, plus the playoffs—in a move that cost him almost $5 million. Wallace was suspended for six games, and one of his brothers was among eight fans charged with playing a part in the melee.
Wallace said earlier this week that he didn’t even know the one-year anniversary of the brawl would be Saturday, but the reminder didn’t annoy him.
“We know it’s not going to disappear, because people will probably bring it up and talk about it for a long time,” he said. “I wish the whole thing didn’t happen for the sake of the fans, the league and the players. But it did, so we all have to live with the effects of it.”
The Pistons continued their strong start under Flip Saunders with Friday’s 78-70 win at Houston, improving to 8-0 for the first time since the 1988-89 team also opened with eight straight wins en route to the first of back-to-back NBA titles.
Richard Hamilton scored 19 points for Detroit, which can match the 1970-71 squad’s team-record 9-0 start.
The Pistons had topped 100 points in five of their first seven games and were starting to develop a reputation for their offense. They were off-target from the start in Houston, though, missing several open shots and a handful of dunks. Their point total was 25 below their season average.
“Defense is what we hang our hat on. It’s what we know how to do,” said Wallace, who grabbed 16 rebounds.
Dallas is riding a four-game winning streak, including Thursday’s 87-78 victory over winless Atlanta.
“It was a weird game for us,” Nowitzki said. “We never got going. It was an ugly basketball game but at the end we made the right plays to win the game.”
Keith Van Horn added 14 points for the Mavs, who improved to 3-0 at home.
Detroit is 5-0 on the road.
STANDINGS (through Nov. 18): Pistons - 1st place, Central Division. Mavericks - 2nd place, 1/2 GB, Southwest Division.
TEAM LEADERS: Pistons - Hamilton, 22.7 ppg; Ben Wallace, 11.7 rpg; Billups, 9.4 apg. Mavericks - Nowitzki, 25 ppg and 8.9 rpg; Terry, 3.8 apg.
2004-05 SEASON SERIES: Tied, 1-1.
LAST MEETING: March 28; Mavericks, 95-88. At Detroit, Howard scored 24 points and Nowitzki added 23 as the Mavs earned a split of the season series.
ROAD/HOME RECORDS: Pistons - 5-0 on the road; Mavericks - 3-0 at home.